Career Q&A: When you've just had it

Q. I have more than 10 years of experience on technical teams at solutions provider companies. Recently, I was hired as an IT manager at another non-IT company where I believed I could add a lot of value.

          Q. I have more than 10 years of experience on technical teams at solutions provider companies. Recently, I was hired as an IT manager at another non-IT company where I believed I could add a lot of value.

          However, after a year I find myself not as productive as I thought I'd be because top management is unaware of IT responsibilities and roles. My direct boss (the COO) does not understand anything about IT and cannot take the time because he's too busy.

          I am afraid at this point I could get fired because we do not understand each other. If this happens, it will be the first failure of my career. Any advice?

          A. First and foremost, make an effort at developing a positive relationship with your boss before giving up. It is not unusual for IT executives to find themselves working for managers who are not IT savvy and are extremely busy.

          Because your boss is busy, why not ask for a meeting after hours or early in the morning to review your organisation's progress? In preparation, develop an overview of IT accomplishments to date and show their relationships to the business goals. Has your group been able to help the company make or save money? That should be your key role. If you cannot articulate such a list, then use the time to restate your commitment to the company and ask for some objectives that will ensure you work on the right tasks and spend the company's money wisely. Be sure to speak in business and not technical terms.

          If you show interest and sincerity when talking to your boss, and speak "his" language of business, you might have a chance at improving the working relationship and your ability to be productive. If after a few attempts this technique does not work, start tuning up your résumé and the process of looking elsewhere for employment.

          The daily grind

          Q. For the past 20 years, I have been in IT project management, most recently as a CIO. I am on the dark side of 50. Is it too late to enter consulting, or should I work to retire in my current CIO position? My past work includes federal US Department of Defense health-care systems. I'm not a true techie but an engineer who is successful at managing people and projects, strategic planning, and IT organisation turnaround. However, the daily crisis mode is wearing on me. Is consulting a good move at this point?

          A. I am not sure that it will be easy for you to transfer into consulting at this stage of your career. It could happen if you have some excellent contacts who know and respect you and would be willing to make the appropriate introductions. Without those introductions, though, your lack of consulting experience and your age will be perceived as barriers to entry.

          To address your crisis mode feelings, try to discuss with your boss ways to improve the work environment so that it is not so grueling. If you already had those conversations and there is no hope, then you have to decide if you can stay the course and get to retirement or if you have to change positions. Although it is a tough job market, one thought is to reconsider a position with the government, especially in defense and security improvement.

          On the fence

          Q. I have held CIO, CTO and vice president of technology positions for the past seven years in midsize companies, but currently I'm unemployed. Would there be any advantage in pursuing IT leadership positions in state and city governments? I'm looking for "intangible benefits" that would offset the income--such as increasing future prospects in the private sector, networking or rubbing elbows in political circles.

          A. Making a move into the government sector can be rewarding, especially if you want to do this based on a desire to do public service. However, be aware that some who have done this have reported their frustration with bureaucracy and limited budgets. You would need to determine whether any position under consideration has sufficient funding for IT projects and that there are commitments for those projects.

          Spending two to three years in the government sector is about all you should do unless you love it and wish to make it your career. To take yourself out of the corporate world for more than a few years can limit your chances to reenter. Corporate executives' general perception of a public service history is not very positive, unless you can talk of important accomplishments.

          Give me a break

          Q. I am the IS director for a small business. Eight months ago, the CIO was fired for lack of vision and leadership. Since that time I have been the acting CIO. I have made several cost-saving decisions totalling almost $US115,000. I have proven my capabilities. Is it time to ask for the promotion?

          A. If you have delivered the IT vision and implemented it successfully, then I'd ask for the promotion. Go directly to your boss and ask for input on your accomplishments and determine whether he is ready to promote you. If not, find out specifically what you can do, in a tangible way, to move toward the goal. In addition to the accomplishments you've mentioned, being promoted to CIO also depends on the quality of relationships you have with peers and their management. You need the vote of confidence from key users as well as from your boss. I hope this works out for you.

          Show me the money

          Q. I have just been promoted from a director position to a vice president position in the engineering department of a software company. My raise was about 10% (no additional stock options) and a slightly larger bonus effective next year. I was told that the promotion was a "field" promotion and, given the economic climate, that this was all the company could do. Personally, I feel slighted and often wonder why I was promoted in the first place. Am I justified in feeling unrewarded?

          A. Unless your company is doing much better than its competitors and the industry in general, raises and promotions have been hard to come by because of the recession. At your level, a 10% increase is solid and a good indicator that you are valued. In addition, I would take it as a compliment and a vote of confidence to be promoted. It is no doubt their intention is to try and keep you and to acknowledge your positive performance.

          You might use this promotion as an opportunity to engage in a discussion with your boss about planning for the future and what you can look forward to in the way of expanded or new responsibilities. Perhaps a conversation about your career and interests will stimulate new ideas or educational directions for you that could also be helpful to the company. Give some thought about what are the most critical projects happening at your company--are you working on these? If not, see if there is a way for you to get involved. Show interest and commitment and maybe you can improve your current position.

          Beverly Lieberman is president of Halbrecht Lieberman Associates, an internationally recognised executive search company that provides retained executive search services across multiple industries while specialising in IT. The web-based Executive Career Counsellor column is edited by director of online research Kathleen Kotwica.

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