“We don’t really do anything here. We just manage the people that do stuff to make sure they don’t screw up.” I used to give this answer a lot when asked about what type of work my franchise IT group did. We are basically responsible for picking other people to do a job that we are qualified to do, and then deal with it when they don’t do it well. Sounds like a dream-come-true right? The perfect answer to “What do you want to be when you grow up, Billy?” It is very frustrating to try to hire someone for this role and get it wrong.
To be a success in this type of environment, the staff needs to be good at negotiation, communication, service level management and, above all, they need to be masterful politicians. These are not skills that are typically strengths for IT people. Most of the time, people who have these strengths have chosen professions outside of IT. But the most important skill of all is having your technical chops. It is absolutely critical that you understand the technology to not only chose the right providers, but to call them on the carpet if they are not performing as they should. So how do you find the right mix? Try hiring an ex-consultant.
Over the past 6 years, I have continued to refine my sense of key attributes that a candidate must have in order to be successful in a franchisee environment that heavily relies on outsourcing. I have found it extremely difficult to pinpoint which skills or experience on a resume identify someone who will be successful in a Franchisor environment unless, of course, they are coming from a franchise IT environment. That one is easy.
You may be saying to yourself, “That’s easy, Todd: Just find someone with experience in managing outsourcing.” But it is not that simple. Most of the folks that I have interviewed that were heavy with outsourcing experience still owned their users.
Although having the skills for managing a service provider is extremely useful, the missing piece is that the users of those IT systems are most often company employees (let’s ignore the customer facing systems, for the moment). When employees have a problem with an IT system, they are used to calling a help desk and working through the internal processes to get their problems resolved. When it comes to working with franchisees, however, that is entirely different. These “users” are quite different when compared with a typical employee, especially when it comes to expectations about price and service levels. Most people that I have talked with that have a heavy outsourcing background are used to being able to set policy around how these services are used. That small nuance can be a big deal in a franchise environment.
My first approach was to create a Product Management organization. I did this after a thorough evaluation of what an IT person in this type of environment has to do. What I found was that it matches very well to what a traditional Product Manager would do:
• Gathering and document user requirements • Identifying and choosing vendor(s) to provide a systems • Working with the vendor(s) to make sure that the systems was provided according to the specifications • Working with the users to gather requirements on how to improve the system • Working with the vendors to enhance the system It seemed to make perfect sense to me that our organization needed to be focused on Product Management. So a few organizational changes here and a few staff changes there, we had a Product Management organization that was ready to take on the world. It failed miserably.Hiring a new person for the team is extremely difficult when the others on the team don’t really understand what their roles are. Complicating things is that if you do interview people who have solid traditional Product Management experience, they aren’t really excited about the idea of managing a POS vendor for a living.
I seemed to be the only one that saw the vision of how it worked. No matter how many times I explained it, drew it on a white-board or in a slide, the people that were already in the organization could never get their head around the role.
What does the Product Manager do and what does the Project Manager do? In many organizations, the Project Manager is the “top dog” when it comes to project teams and, in my new world, the Product Manager was. “The Product Manager owns the widget. The Project Manager helps them build the widget.” My thinking was that the Product Manager owns the entire lifecycle of a system, where the Project Manager only really built the project or enhancement. The Project Managers didn’t like someone taking their perceived power away, the Product Managers were lost and tired of fighting with the Project Mangers. It just fell apart.
I still strongly believed that these activities are the right ones for success, and that it was the implementation that was flawed. So I reviewed the above again, trying to see if there were other roles that perform similar tasks. What I found was that there is another role with very similar qualifications: Consultant.
• Skills around negotiation, communication and working through office politics, check. • The ability to gather requirements and build systems with Project Managers, check. • Dealing with frustrated customers (franchisees), check. • Good at working with outside companies because he/she was used to working for outside companies. My personal background is in consulting and I know that it has played a large part in my success in franchise IT organizations, but, for some reason, I had overlooked it. The goal is to find a consultant that is tired of the travel, tired of bouncing around between different organizations and “wants to settle down.” It is also helpful if they believe that with this settling-down phase comes a reduction in pay, as many consultants are making much a higher income than what your position might pay.
My advice is to outline specifically what you want the role to do, but “play with” the qualitative description. Don’t call it a Product Manager, or a Business Analyst. Try calling it an “IT Consultant.” Have your staffing people look at resumes from consultants specifically. Have them focus on resumes where people have been consulting for a long time, or appear to have been unemployed (as a consultant) for a while. Either of these may indicate someone who is looking for a change.
What do you think? Love it or hate it, I’d love to gain some additional perspectives. Leave a comment, or E-mail me at [email protected].