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|The Hybrid Manager|
The BCS (British Computer Society) report 'Hybrid Managers - From Potential to Reality' (1990) called for the UK to develop 10,000 hybrid managers by 1995. The report highlighted the needs for further action in:
This paper presents the results of a two stage research programme carried out by the author at the Oxford Institute of Information Management at Templeton College in 1989-91. In addition, it gives some personal reflections on hybrid managers based on the author's own experience as one an industrial marketing department.
What is a Hybrid?
The term hybrid was originally coined by Peter Keen in the mid 1980s, but received its most precise and most quoted definition by Michael Earl:
"A person with strong technical skills and adequate business knowledge or vice versa .... hybrids are people with technical skills able to work in user areas doing a line job, but adept at developing and implementing IT application ideas"
In addition, roles such as leaders and impresarios were also defined.However, these distinctions are seldom recognized by practicing managers.
Why do we need Hybrid Managers?
Every week the popular IT press cites another survey which highlights some of the prevailing issues in the world of IT. Examples over the last few years include:
Consistently among the top MIS issues in various surveys are:
All of these suggest the need for much closer partnerships between the business and IT. Hybrid managers are seen as able to play a leading role in this, with specific emphasis on:
To do this effectively needs the knowledge and experience of both business and IT which as possessed by a hybrid manager.
About the Hybrid Manager
Are they a new breed?
However are they really new? Many people, including myself (!), who would now be recognised as hybrid managers, had never thought of calling themselves that in the past - but nevertheless they existed!
When given an open-ended question which asked senior IT managers to describe themselves less than 10% said hybrid managers. As well as conventional descriptions such as 'IS director', 'business
manager' there were some quite revealing ones e.g.
Origins in Research
It was also apparent, that as organisations evolved through these stages, the head of the IT function became more business and organisation oriented, as opposed to a technologist. Indeed, in many organisations, the people themselves were changed - technologist DP managers being replaced by line managers from the main-stream business. To be successful in these later stages calls for hybrid characteristics.
Other research looked at IT development as a process of change and innovation. With such a 'competitive edge' focus, new roles such as sponsors and champions emerge. Again research suggested that successful champions have hybrid characteristics.
In addition, personality traits affect whether a person has the motivation to be a hybrid manager. Typical recruits to the IT profession have traditionally had very low social affiliation needs. Their career 'anchors' (after Schein) have often been technical. Yet hybrid managers must want to manage people and have a good degree of extroversion and social skill.
Characteristics often cited and searched for include:
The acid test of whether someone is a true hybrid manager is whether they can exchange jobs with their peers in other functions. For example, I know of where the company's former senior lawyer is now the CIO, and an IT project manager who became the manager of an oil refuelling depot. Career paths and development routes for hybrids must therefore typically include periods of 2-3 years in an IS function and a line function.
An Old Idea
General management literature also gives us good pointer to what characteristics a hybrid manager needs. They are consistent with those mentioned above - they include the ability to be a team player, a motivation to manage and a loyalty to the organization (not a traditional strong point of IT professionals!).
The R&D function also provides a useful parallel in the way they now recognise the need to 'bridge' into other functions such as manufacturing and marketing. There are interesting lessons here for IT departments. Indeed, cross functional hybridization (e.g. engineering to manufacturing) is a well known theme in other disciplines - but does not attract labels other than 'hybrid' (c.f. 'concurrent engineering').
Agendas for Change
This also raises the question of whether having hybrid mangers is sufficient to ensure successful IT-business partnerships. Our research suggests not. Perhaps as important are 'hybrid teams', where people from different disciplines work together to make policy (e.g. IT steering committees) or implement change (e.g. system project teams). I would even go so far as to say that each project team should also have a social scientist as well as business analysts, users and systems developers!
Other factors which our research has revealed as important are:
Although steady progress has been made over the last few years, still much remains to be done to create hybrid managers and allow organisations to gain the full benefits of their IT investments. On the positive side we have seen:
One aspect that subsequent field work research we conducted showed conclusively was the importance of bridging mechanisms. These are the various ways that individuals and teams cross-fertilise knowledge and skills either in formal or informal settings. Bridging mechanisms include IT steering groups, job rotation and secondment, multi-disciplinary project teams etc. We see more evidence of these mechanisms in use, but few organisations have systematically reviewed such approaches or measured their effectiveness.
Some of the other areas where more progress needs to be made include:
"Just what is a hybrid, and is it really worth becoming one? Hybrid IT managers are as rare as prize-winning orchids - yet business need them more than ever."
He cited our work on characteristics, that as well as the appropriate IT and business skills include energy and enthusiasm, a sense of perspective,communications skills, an ability to work with broad concepts or precise detail, and a driving attitude: "if change isn't taking place, we must make it happen".
"The acid test of whether someone is a true hybrid is whether they can exchange jobs with their peers in other functions"
'Hybrid Managers: What should you do?', M.J.Earl and D.J.Skyrme, Computer Bulletin, pp.19-21 (May 1990).
'Hybrid Managers: What do we know about them?", M.J.Earl and D.J.Skyrme, Journal of Information Systems, Vol 1., No. 2, pp169-187 (1992)
Management Insights are publications of David Skyrme Associates, who offers strategic consulting, presentations and workshops on many of these topics.
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