December 12, 2007


Have you ever observed an employee who has "it"?

I visited a lot of companies this year. Occasionally, I'd observe an employee who has "it".

How do you know if an employee has "it"?
  • In a meeting, this person will sit at one end of the table, so all can hear this person talk.
  • Regardless of title, employees will ask this person for his/her opinion.
  • If this person sends an e-mail to a large distribution list, many people respond.
  • Executives say this person "knows what s/he is doing", even though the Executive seldom spends real time observing the work this person does.
  • On Friday afternoon at 3:00pm, employees mysteriously gather around this person, sharing stories about some random topic.
  • This person spends a lot of time combing trade journals, reading blogs, or doing research on topics not necessarily linked to his/her specific job function. And because of this habit, this person seems to be able to "see" the future better than the average person.
  • When assigned a project, this person give the Executive what she asked for, gives the Executive what she wanted but was not able to articulate, and give the Executive what is "needed" for the company to succeed.
  • This person has ideas that make a significant minority of people feel uncomfortable.
  • This person does things that other employees say "can't" be done.
  • This person does not appear to be overworked. S/he only focuses on stuff that is important, and seems to have a gift for determining what is important.
  • This person doesn't need budgetary authority to make things happen.
  • This employee isn't always on a "fast track" to Executive status. The individual is sometimes seen as a threat, or is occasionally viewed as not being a "good fit" for leadership positions.
  • For some reason, people who don't report to this person do things for this person, helping this person succeed.
  • While this person may have crabby moments, or an occasionally negative thought, overall, this person exudes confidence, optimism, joy and energy.
  • If you ask this person what s/he is working on, you might be caught off-guard by what s/he says.
  • If this person schedules a meeting, people show up on-time for the meeting.
During my travels this year, the Executive quickly volunteers to me the individuals who have "it".

My challenge to Executives is to "do something with 'it'"!


  1. Remember back in elementary school when it WASN'T cool to be it (as in "Tag! You're it!)? Times sure have changed.

  2. Maybe I was so fast that I wasn't "it" very often! At least that's how I remember it.

  3. Anonymous5:35 PM

    The "it" employee makes someone else rich, hence is highly valued, as a slave on the corporate farm.

  4. Anonymous --- hopefully, you'll have better corporate experiences in the future.

  5. Kevin,
    I lack in work/travel experience when it comes to comparing myself to you; what I can tell you however is that in my working adventures over the last decade I have noticed this 'it' phenomenon and to honest, every company seems to have just one.... what is your take on that?

  6. Anonymous6:44 AM

    As a genuine 'silverback' who has been inside hundreds of DM companies, I absolutely concur with Kevin's observations.

    Over the past 30 years, this person has turned up at almost every company visit. This is the person you ask to take you on a tour of the warehouse and then say to them. "Okay, what's really going on here?" and they tell you the truth.

    Interestingly, these star-crossed people seemingly are either appreciated or feared by owners. They are appreciated by some owners for their skill and forthrightness and feared by others for forcing them to face their inherent "living in denial" style of strategic management.

    It also seems they seldom become CEOs; rather, they go from company to company scattering a trail of stars and inspiring a few star-crossed proteges along the way.

  7. Sadly, my experience has shown that many large corporations absolutely don't appreciate that "IT" person. I'm talking about large, conservative companies. Sometimes, if someone is too forward-thinking and not afraid to share their thoughts, this is intimidating to a conservative firm.

  8. Matthew --- it seems like I run across, at most, one person at every company. I've also run across "none" at a few places. Those instances are sad.

    At the bigger companies I visit, there probably are more than one person ... but the odds of running across multiple people become smaller. For instance, in my time at Nordstrom, I'd run across the "it" person at our call center. Then I'd run across the "it" person in information technology. Then I'd run across the "it" person in inventory management. The odds of running across all three individuals within a short period of time is about zero. But they're there.

    Suzanne --- big companies are like a play ... the "it" person might be like the chorus, stating the obvious, while the stars of the cast continue down some pre-destined path.

    Don --- it's been my experience that these "it" people don't have a high likelihood of achieving positions of Sr. Leadership, unless they are of the entrepreneurial mindset.

  9. Anonymous11:21 PM

    "it's been my experience that these "it" people don't have a high likelihood of achieving positions of Sr. Leadership"

    Hi Kevin,
    I would go further than that...the "IT" person needs diplomatic and political skills to push their ideas to the surface. In many cases, without those skills, Senior Leadership either 1. ignores the more creative(i.e. riskier) proposals of the IT person, or 2. Takes credit for those proposals which leads to "IT" person gradually being discouraged and eventually either leaving or to "stop" being "it" both which prove harmful to a company in the short-term.
    Recognize, listen and reward the "IT" person in your company.


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