Are You a Butler or an Entrepreneur?

snobby butler

Are we butlers or entrepreneurs in corporate IT? Or do we fall somewhere in between? Personally, I’d prefer to be an entrepreneur but, more often than not, feel closer to being a butler than I’d like to be.

Update: Move from being a butler to being an entrepreneur.

The butler and entrepreneur are two of the four types of IT within organizations, according to Susan Cramm on the Harvard Business Review blog. The other two are the grinder and the team player.

The butler plays a supporting role, she says. The IT butler’s “no fuss, no muss” manner may seem efficient, but this role ill equips it innovate or lead in technology.

The grinder is the commodity view of IT, Cramm says. This is a tactical role based on basic services at low cost.

The team player “is expected to run efficiently and work collaboratively with its business partners to embed technology into business processes,” she says.

Finally, the entrepreneur “is the innovative IT organization,” according to Cramm. This is where we all want to be: doing the creative work to solve business problems. Organizationally,

IT governance is baked in to overall corporate governance, and the CIO reports to the highest levels of the organization, frequently discussing key issues with the board of directors.

Unfortunately, on her last point, this is the exception rather than the rule. How many companies have anything higher than an IT Manager? My guess is a minority do. Part of the problem is the business side will talk a good game about IT. (They often call it “ICT” to appear knowledgeable. But that just sounds like middle-aged parents using teenage slang to sound cool). Meanwhile, the techies do a poor job of explaining their jobs, their technology and its capabilities.

This goes back to a series of posts (here, here and here) by Prof. Joe Peppard at the Irish Computer Society (ICS) earlier this year. In one of the talks, he spoke of the cultural gap between IT and the rest of the organisation. To illustrate his point, he referred to the cultural web where things like organizational structure, symbols, rituals and stories set the paradigm.

Peppard noted that the language, approach and even dress code of the business and IT groups can differ remarkably. He urged tech types to note that to better advance their agendas within the organization. After writing the first post, I asked him if he knew of any surveys or questionnaires that could measure how far apart IT had strayed from everyone else. Peppard wasn’t aware of any but sent me a number of interesting papers he had written on the topic.

Now, Cramm, author of 8 Things To Hate About I.T., has narrowed down my search a little. No doubt, there are shades of gray to what she says, but it is a good start for a survey that would try to determine how far or close to the business IT has become.

Butler photo by Glamhag on