by Gerry McNamara, Beverly Lieberman and Mark Polansky

Career Advice: How to Get to the Top

Sep 15, 20036 mins

Q: I am a director serving a prestigious, state-of-the-art $100 million client in the services management business. My services include enterprise architecture, IT strategy, business processes, IT operations, IT support and leadership. I have a feeling that top management does not understand or appreciate the value of my contribution. I have no peers doing what I do to benchmark my performance. How do I approach management for better compensation, recognition and career growth?

A: The IT services management business is an aggressive, fast-moving business with many competitors. It is not uncommon in such a sector that the company’s leadership loses sight of the most important asset: its people.

Leaderships are so focused on bringing in the next engagement, meeting client commitments and the competition that they forget about the very thing that distinguishes them from the competition. If this is the case, I suggest you redirect and get their attention.

The best time to do this would be during your scheduled performance review. If one is not scheduled soon, ask your manager for 30 to 45 minutes of uninterrupted time.

Prior to the meeting, gather your facts and put them in writing with the aim of conducting a cogent conversation with your manager. Your goal should be to inform, ask questions and gain agreement that something should be done relative to compensation or career growth. I recommend you include client references in the information you compile for this meeting as this is perceived as the “real” value. You really need to get the following questions answered: How does the company view me? Am I viewed as an A-list player? If not, why not? Are there some invalid perceptions out there that need to be rectified? Or is it just a case of your working very hard and not being noticed? Your overall objective is to ascertain exactly how management perceives and values you.

It is perfectly legitimate to indicate disappointment and ask for explanations on how management rewards employees and what you should expect going forward.

However, do not back your manager into a corner or make demands; rather, articulate your position, the work accomplished and results achieved. You should not expect decisions to be made in the meeting, but do not hesitate to ask for a follow-up within a week’s time. You may find you do have a legitimate weakness that needs to be improved, or you may come to the conclusion that your worth and value will never be recognized at this company.

-Gerry McNamara,

Partner Of Heidrick & Struggles

How to Get a Seat at the Table

Q: I have been offered a position as a general manager with a global services provider in the financial services industry. The position reports to the head of the division directly underneath the president. My peers are in sales or marketing and operations. However, the previous CIO was not strong enough to be seen as a peer with these other executives due to his lack of understanding of the industry. How do I convey to my prospective boss that it is critical to the success of the business to view technology at the same level as the other functions, especially when that is the key to the success of a technology-based and service-oriented business? Does the title of general manager suffice to emphasize the importance of the role?

A: It is important to get the president’s view on the role of the general manager and whether he views it as a true peer position compared to the head of marketing, for example.

If you have not yet accepted the position, request a meeting with the president and take this opportunity to find out his views on the role, his understanding of how the team will operate, and his goals and objectives. You might try to find out his concerns or disappointment with the previous CIO.

I also suggest you have this discussion with the division head—your direct boss. Make sure that person is comfortable with the offered role and is prepared to give you every opportunity to succeed.

If the president and your direct boss provide you with positive feedback, then it is up to you to prove your value and build confidence through your actions. The rapport you have built with your peers is every bit as important as that with your boss and will most likely be a major factor in your ability to have a positive impact.

-Beverly Lieberman, president of Halbrecht Lieberman Associates

How to Overcome the Past

Q: I have been running a custom software development company for the past seven years as its CEO. I am considering a change in direction due to recent events. I have strong team-building, change-management, strategic-planning and problem-solving skills. Some weaknesses are holes in networking knowledge—and that I never completed a degree. How will these shortcomings be perceived in pursuing a CIO position?

A: Let’s take the 30,000-foot view of your situation. You have been building products, in this case software, by running a commercial software development function for quite a while. This has no doubt afforded you the opportunity to sharpen your proficiency and hone your skills in software development processes and project management as well as in technical staff recruitment, development and leadership—good stuff indeed.

That said, your background as a prospective CIO candidate lacks “buy side” industry and business knowledge, experience in relationships with operating business management, and the crucial aspect of leveraging technology for the advantage of the enterprise in alignment with strategic, budgetary and political considerations. I will also assume that you have never had ownership of a long-range enterprise information technology strategy, architecture and the corresponding infrastructure.

At a more pragmatic 10,000-foot level, you are at a disadvantage when contending for career opportunities with established CIOs who have been there before—especially in this very soft and highly competitive buyer’s job market.

However, use what you have to get what you want.

  • Look for a vice president or director-level position in applications development and solutions deployment in an attractive and growing company environment to earn your corporate stripes and scars.
  • Get involved in technology deployment and operations.
  • Then leverage your new experience into a CIO role by means of either an internal promotion or another change of employers. If shifting companies yet again is not something that you would look forward to, make your next change into an operating unit of a large, multibusiness organization that will afford more inside possibilities to you in the future, perhaps as a divisional CIO.

As for your lack of a degree, you will simply have to make the best of it. Some companies will care, while many won’t. I would counsel that “it’s never too late.”

-Mark Polansky, managing director and member of the advanced technology practice at Korn/Ferry International

The Web-based Executive Career Counsel column is edited by Director of Online Research Kathleen Kotwica (