Observing the road warrior

Who would Jesus hire
Written by Paul Murphy, Contributor
Back in the day...when PW's partners could count billable expenses toward their annual nut (minimal expected revenue contribution) you'd frequently see their people flying in past each other in celebration of the fact that a true expert is someone who's more than 25 miles from home and fully billable. I don't know if today's PWC partners have the same incentives, Look closely at the real skill differences and then ask yourself, "Who would Jesus hire?" but the business of moving people offering no discernibly unique skills between cities clearly continues unabated.

In fact I was uniquely positioned this weekend to observe some of the rituals and obsessions growing out of this with respect to the IT road warrior and thought it might be interesting to get other people's comments too.

My number one observation on the business side is simply that limited skills are fully interchangeable. If the firm's Joe in Vancouver and Jane in Calgary share the same basic skill sets, then billing has to be the only point in shipping Jane to Vancouver and Joe to Calgary. Look at Joe and Jane carefully and they do have marginally different skills and attitudes to offer, but for the most part these create distinctions without differences - and that's especially true in tightly controlled projects where the client sets the technology ground rules and the "consultants" are really just temporary staff.

I do know some people whose skills justify flying them to client sites -and they have two things in common: first, they're all mavericks who don't toe the line, whether drawn by the client or anyone else; and, secondly, they avoid travel like the plague.

The more interesting conclusion I was led to this weekend, however, has nothing to do with the details of the job, and everything to do with the human consequences of the road warrior role.

The act of going on the road for an IT or other job disconnects the road warrior from the usual social support networks - family, long term friends, the office water cooler, home, a sense of belonging among people and in a place. Since this disconnection creates emotional vulnerabilities, survivors tend to adopt protective emotional and behavioral camouflage.

In some cases that camouflage is quickly and extraordinarily destructive - cocaine and barfly addictions, for example spell trouble for both the employee and the employer.

In most, however, the adaptations consist of little more than exaggerations of successful social behaviors from school - visibly failing to differentiate old friends from new; copying and exaggerating group behaviors; retreating into diminishing threat postures at every opportunity; portraying themselves as more confident then they are; and exaggerating their own role outside the presence of authority.

The problem with braggadocio as false front, whether practiced by a puffer fish or an out of town IT consultant, is that in humans it corrodes the soul and ultimately replaces the real individual with the made up one.

That's what's happened, for example, to a guy I thought of as "the old major:" he spends his time smiling beatifically at one and all while dispensing the wisdom of his age but has, I think, exactly zero sincerity, zero commitment, and zero self-knowledge. Basically he's what T.S. Elliot would have recognized as a hollow man - nothing left of him but a suit automaton that makes the right noises and doesn't get fired by the clients.

I think there's a lesson here, a simple bottom line we could capture in a timely slogan: when evaluating IT proposals think about what you're helping do to the people at the delivery end. If one proposal relies on the road warrior and another doesn't, look closely at the real skill differences and then ask yourself: "Who would Jesus hire?"

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