by CIO Staff

CAREER COUNSEL – Two-Stepping to a New Political Reality

Jun 01, 20026 mins

Two-Stepping to a New Political Reality

Q. I am in my 16th year as a computer professional and currently serve as manager of IS for a very successful beverage distributor. My dilemma is twofold. The company is old-fashioned?it has pay scales and increases them slowly. Mine is approximately 30 percent below the low end of the average. How do I properly continue to emphasize that my staff and I are grossly underpaid?

The second issue is the company’s executive structure, which changed about nine months ago. I now report to the vice president of administration and information. He has no background in and very little knowledge of IT. My position is considered to be part of executive management at the director level, and my job functions are those of a CIO. How do I handle the new political struggle that’s shaping up?

A: Your first question regarding salary is quite simple and direct. If you are certain that management is aware that its IS professionals have been historically underpaid at compensation levels significantly below market, and you have done your very best to change that, then you and your staff must vote with your feet and either stay or go. Your portrayal of the situation tells me that your company does not really value IT?or you and your staff?as highly as it should and is therefore willing to risk turnover to avoid raising salaries. That reality, plus your new boss with his position in the organization and a title that belie your presumed chief strategic role, adds up to an underpaid and underappreciated IS department and manager. If you truly have the qualifications and experience of a CIO, my vote is for you to walk.

Reading the Signals

Q. I am currently a vice president of applications development. I have an MBA from a top-tier B-school and 17 years of professional experience including software, hardware, operations, telecom and project management. I have managed organizations as large as 110 people. We lost our CIO/CTO several months ago. I believe I am the most qualified candidate and have expressed my interest in the position. However, I am not considered a candidate. I asked for feedback on the decision and have received nothing tangible, although the feedback from the executive team on my performance is glowing. I feel as though I will never be considered for the CIO/CTO role as an insider. Worse, I feel it would be too difficult to explain to future employers why I have been passed over for that role. It looks like I must leave the company, and before the new CIO/CTO is found. Any thoughts?

A: Your background seems to be well-rounded in terms of academic credentials and your technically diverse experiences covering the gamut of IT. On paper you seem to be well-prepared for a CIO opportunity. I applaud your direct effort to get senior management to share their perspective with you, but you said that nothing negative came up. So what did they say when you asked why you weren’t being considered for the job? Perhaps it’s a personality or chemistry issue?but if so, why no feedback? Or perhaps the executive team simply does not perceive you as the right guy for the job, or the right guy yet, considering your relative youth. But again, why no feedback? If you are honestly certain that you are CIO material now and have obtained reliable and trusted third-party confirmation of that, then it probably is time to move on.

The timing of your move is not critical, but sooner rather than later is probably better. That said, it is generally easier to find a good job while you are still employed, so weigh your decision carefully. In either case, whether you leave before or after the next CIO arrives, and whether or not you leave with your next gig in hand, talk to management before you resign. Let them know how you feel and ask to negotiate a graceful and financially advantageous (for you!) exit based on their unwillingness to consider you as a candidate for the CIO position. Last, don’t overlook a great number-two job with a promising future.

Wrong Move?

Q. I have been on a new job for two weeks and am in the process of relocating my family halfway across the United States. The company is now asking everyone to voluntarily take a 10 percent pay cut and take unpaid time off. Should I sacrifice and play the corporate citizen or decline to participate in these cost-saving efforts?

A: The answer to your question depends on if you really want to give your new opportunity its best chance of success. In this challenging business environment many organizations are experiencing economic conditions that dictate prudent fiscal action, be it in the form of expense elimination, head count reduction, staff furloughs or salary cuts. In that case, a voluntary and uniform percentage cut in pay is an interesting way of getting everyone to rally around the cause in an inclusive way. But there’s no avoiding the inevitable “good or bad citizen” consequence of individual cooperation that has caused you to stop and think about your response. Although that kind of monetary teamwork cuts very close to home, let your sensibility guide you and hope that your “investment” rather than your “sacrifice” pays dividends. If the return doesn’t materialize in due time, write your investment off and move on.

Leaping Up

Q. I am currently director of IS for a small $160 million manufacturing company. I report directly to the CEO and have the responsibilities of a CIO. I recently discovered some serious ethical issues with our vice president of finance and brought them to the attention of the CEO. He shrugged them off. I know I need to find another position and have been looking. However, most vice president or CIO positions I’ve been looking at require experience from much larger companies than the one where I’m currently employed. How do I make the leap when I know my background and education are up to the task?

A: You are correct in assessing your compelling need for a change of venue, based on the disreputable corporate behavior you have uncovered. As to your job search perplexity, there are basically two ways to get to the top IS position in a large company. First, you can make a lateral move at the CIO level, or a series of such lateral moves up the scale at increasingly larger environments in which you are professionally challenged but not overwhelmed until you arrive at your goal. The alternative approach is to ascend the organizational ladder from within a very large enterprise by starting from a lower position such as project director or applications manager. For someone who has already served as a small-shop CIO, the choice of strategy may be based on your sensitivity to trading off your current top dog status for the advantages of acquiring big company experience.