When is a Promotion not a Promotion?

I was reading about Sir Johnathan Ive’s promotion at Apple yesterday in the Guardian – and it’s interesting that the article quoted 2 people – one who saw this as a step up, perhaps a precursor to becoming a CEO, the other saw it as a steady decline, the first step towards the exit door.

On the face of it it would seem bizarre that a promotion could be read as a negative.  But 2 things could be said here –

1 was it really a promotion, or just branded as one?

2 does the change of job lead to more or less power?

Point 1 would just be speculation, so I won’t go there, but point 2 seems to hold interesting ideas about the world of work – on the one hand, it seems that Jony will have an overview on all design that Apple produce; he can dip into and comment on anything and everything – so lots of influence.

On the other hand no one works for him – to free up the time for a broader oversight Apple have apparently taken away line management responsibility – and the second contributor argues that without management responsibility you have no real power to get anything done.

This seems to me to be the defining issue of the knowledge-based, individual-contributor industry sector – you are recognised and promoted because you are good at doing something – design, coding, selling, advising etc. – so do you stick at that, or do you move into a position of increased power, which usually means more management, but less doing what you are good at?

If you are watching HBO’s Silicon Valley at the moment, you’re seeing a very funny, but painfully true version of this, as as would-be Steve Jobs, Richard Hendricks, is being forced into recruitment, attracting investors, spending decisions, staffing issues, supplier problems etc. even before his product is usable, let alone on the market.

Time will tell whether Sir Johnathan is moving up or out, in the meantime it’s food for thought for anyone who is an Individual Contributor.

Graham @ Henley Careers