Q: I am challenged with fostering a change in the culture of a company. Currently it is very political and competitive. Are there any successful tactics or “safe bets” for this effort without having an adverse effect on my career? I understand that a major change like this may be a road to a C-level position, but then again, it can lead to the unemployment line too. Is it worth the risk?
A: In leading change efforts around culture, there are no safe bets. By the nature of fostering change, you will no doubt offend and threaten some people. To attempt to minimize the risk of losing your job, you had best be sure that several senior executives who are actively communicating the change and are true sponsors and champions for this are backing you. Ongoing meetings and perhaps town-hall gatherings should be frequent enough to reinforce management’s commitment to this change and the benefits that will be derived from it.
I also suggest getting some organizational psychologists or the equivalent involved who can provide guidance and support while the transformation is under way.
From a behavioral point of view, by being open, direct and sincere, and constantly communicating senior management’s vision, you will begin to convince others of the benefits of change. Winning over some key constituents early on may have a ripple effect, which is what you want.
While there is no safe haven and you will be taking a risk, you will learn a lot from this experience. And even if it does not work out as well as you hope, your efforts will add to your career portfolio and will also look good on your rŽsumŽ. Employers look for risk-takers and respect those who have strong convictions and work hard in carrying out their mission.
-Beverly Lieberman, president of Halbrecht Lieberman Associates
Q: I have postgraduate training in computer science and have 13 years of widely mixed experience in software development, training, project management and quality assurance. I also have more than three years of entrepreneurship experience in these fields. Currently I am working in presales and sales-support for an IT services organization. What are my future growth prospects, and how should I shape my career going forward?
A: In order to decide on a direction for your career, you need to consider what you enjoy most about the kind of work you have been doing and the type of work environment that suits you best. Should you continue on your current track, one option would be to work for a technology product or services company to lead product development initiatives as well as marketing and business development. Positions that offer the biggest financial rewards are often those in sales. The senior-most roles in vendor organizations tend to be filled by executives who have marketing and customer management backgrounds.
Another option is to pursue management roles in large corporations. These include leading large-scale systems integration projects such as ERP implementations. These are often multiyear projects and can include global responsibilities. Having global experience at a senior project and management level will position your career to be tracking a CIO role or equivalent.
Changing Your Mind
Q: I took a CIO position at a smaller company because I needed a job. However, my heart is not in it. As a professional, I am doing my best to support the team and the company. I want to be fair to the company and myself. Should I continue until I find a position more aligned with my career aspirations, or should I just walk away now to totally focus on new opportunities?
A: Being unemployed while job hunting always leaves some room for doubt: “Was there a problem? Was she performing well?” This is especially true in a market in which many poor performers have been let go under the umbrella of cost reduction. Since you say that you are doing your professional best under the circumstances, then it would seem that you are being as fair as possible to your employer. In fairness to yourself, you should keep your eyes and ears open to the market, and selectively make contact with top recruiters to let them know that you are available to be considered for larger-scale opportunities. Time is on your side as the job market continues to slowly improve and your tenure at this “interim” position increases, thereby mitigating an early departure. Being employed but looking tells prospective employers that the choice to move on is yours.
-Mark Polansky, managing director and member of the advanced technology practice at Korn/Ferry International
Q: I have worked for the same boss for 12 years, and my career has progressed well under his direction. However, he has no aspirations to move up. My next promotion would be to his level, and I would like to move up. How should I approach the CIO with this request?
A: Approach your CIO directly-as soon as possible. Your ambition would not be interpreted as disloyal by any thinking person. Remember, you have given as well as received direction from your superior during a 12-year period: The very definition of loyalty. But now your loyalty is to yourself and your career. If your boss is a true mentor and supporter, he will encourage your continuing success, and should prove to be a valued peer in the future.
Q. I shifted to IT from marketing four years ago when our midsize company implemented ERP, and now I lead the department. I have been reporting to our CEO, but recently I have been asked to report to our vice president of procurement and logistics. Should I accept this reporting structure?
A: If the CEO is indicating he or she is too busy to give you the time you need and views the vice president as a key leader with an interest in IT, then this might be a reasonable move. Do you have projects that directly involve this executive? If so, and you have a good working relationship, then this might be positive for you and the company.
If you perceive this as a demotion, then it’s time to consider a job change. Most CIOs will tell you they prefer reporting to the CEO; however, there are times when reporting to another top-line executive can be just as satisfying if that person enables you to be a part of the senior team and provides avenues for participating in senior-level meetings and committees.
Q: I was recently moved out of my job because of a political move by a new CTO. I was leading the enterprise’s e-business direction and reporting to the vice president of operations, who also was the CIO. How do I address this to my next employer? I have the education and skills to be a CTO or more. But this experience has left me feeling bitter and angry. Should I tell my next employer what happened, or should I just focus on my skills to do the job?
A: Until you can come to peace with the loss of your job, I’m afraid your bitterness will get in the way. Candidly, it is naive of you to think of the world as a perfect meritocracy where employment decisions are made objectively and without political influence. If you don’t care to develop your survival skills, consider a consulting position or possibly a career in the academic or nonprofit worlds. To be sure, there’s lots of politics in these fields, too, but you are less likely to encounter there what you have called “reckless behavior.” In any case, you should be selling yourself and your capabilities. Simply state the facts-you were let go as a result of a change of leadership, by a CTO who wished to choose his own staff. Put aside your CTO wishes for now and interview for opportunities at your level of experience, not at the level of your future career expectations.
Q: I have more than 15 years of experience on the technical side of IT at the vice president and director level. I’m shooting for CIO, but I seem to notice a pattern that all CIOs come from the applications side of IT. Is my observation correct?
A: Yes. The technical side of IT-namely the infrastructure and its care and feeding-is not what creates value and competitive advantage for your employer. The engineering, management and support of data centers and IT operations is the “utility” part of what we do, and therefore it is the first to be outsourced, rationalized, consolidated or otherwise minimized. Conversely, innovation in business applications has the potential to optimize business operations-it is therefore crucial and core to any organization’s performance. Talk to your CIO about your desire to cross over and get closer to the revenue. Sell your leadership skills and underlying technical expertise; ask for a transfer at whatever level management thinks may be appropriate. Study, work hard and develop your new skills in applications design and development. In the future, you will be pleased to find that your new competencies in business systems, coupled with your previous technology background, will differentiate you as a well-rounded CIO prospect. -M.P.