Estimated reading time: 6 mins
I used to be like you – a shy, modest, hard working IT engineer who’d little time for what I supposed to be those self-serving sycophants scrambling up promotion vines in the corporate jungle 🙂
You know the ones. They’re on first name terms with most middle and some senior managers (including many non-IT bosses). And while you’re pushing a trolley loaded with networking kit into the data center at 7pm often they’re often to be found shooting the breeze in the offices of those very same top people. Yet strangely absent at the weekends 😉
Such cynicism’s sometimes seen as a “badge of honour” amongst IT Professionals who wouldn’t dream of belittling themselves with idle chit-chat in a manager’s office and just want to get on with their never ending tasks. A very commendable work attitude indeed but a very limiting career one. Let me explain.
The world view of an employee’s an interesting experiment in “homeostasis” i.e. the manager sets the rules, the employee gets the tasks done and all’s well with the world provided it comes attached to a monthly paycheck. Office politics aside, this belief system may get many through each day, week, month – and even years, in some cases!
However, experience suggests that change is always likely to show up when least expected – either in a personal crisis such as health or relationship issues or as a career emergency involving redundancy, downsizing, merger or even skills obsolescence (e.g. do you recall the last technical course or certification you took and how did you apply it your company’s benefit?)
And when winds of change start blowing by cubicle corridors, for many it comes as a real shocker – the career equivalent of a cat 5 hurricane. Now you might be lucky this time – your levees of career experience hold up to the storm, governing managers come to your rescue by not firing you and no personal crisis overwhelms your defenses.
So what am I suggesting? Well, let’s put it this way – you should hope for the best but plan for the worst . In plain geek speak this means to ethically emulate what the greasy pole climbers are doing while perfecting soft skills you might need one day to survive as a self-employed (IT) consultant.
Here are what I suggest you start working on right away (as an addition to your existing work, not as an excuse for goofing off. Remember, “ethical ” emulation!)
1. Get real clear (meet formally with your boss if necessary) on exactly WHY your job exists in the company and the criteria by which your success in that role is judged and measured. I suggest you then keep a private written record of one task (however small) you complete each day that meets one of those criteria. (The reason it’s private is so that you can assess over time which criteria are really important to your managers and the company – and then quietly downplay the others.)
2. Find ways to occasionally speak about what you do in your company to non-IT colleagues. This can be something like a lunchtime series of 20 minute informal meetings e.g. “What IT really does in this company” and then you are one of the featured speakers – maybe a monthly meeting for 6 months or so. (If this doesn’t exist, then ask your boss can you start one! IT managers usually like spreading the good news gospel of what they can do for the business.)
Or you can take the bull by the horns and go talk for 5-10 minutes to each of 5 non-IT people (over a period of weeks/months) that your work has brought you into contact with. Doesn’t matter if they are the janitor or the CEO’s PA (remember, this person is the second most powerful person in your organization !) Simply tell them you are polishing your presentation skills for a self-development project (shh!!!yours!) and ask can you pop by for 5 minutes or so to ask their opinion on your latest “2 minute synopsis” of how your current major project is benefiting the company and their department. Don’t be shy – if you keep it short you might also get a lot of feedback about what IT is NOT doing for their department – valuable info! But also respect others busy time and right to say “no, not right now.”
3. Always sit in the front row of any staff meeting and right in the middle – not at the edge like you may have done during those first awkward teenage discos! And get into the habit of asking at least one (intelligent) question during these meetings. You have a presence – begin to make it constructively felt!
4. Create an opportunity to publish something on your company intranet which illustrates how your job (and by implication, your department and manager!) has benefited the company in some way. Now don’t take me literally here – it’s not about you, you, you!! The benefit to the company’s bottom line is ultimately what people take note of, especially managers. So take your time to think through your team’s contribution to a major project and then volunteer to do the grunt work of writing up a piece for a newsletter, special report or whatever is available in your workplace.
The real benefit here is that not only are you the author but you now have a bone-fide reason for talking about or emailing the link to another person when the opportunity presents itself – but don’t become an in-house spammer, OK! You’re just reporting the story.
5. Become involved with some aspect of community partnership , sports or socializing network within your company. This is where a lot of departmental and “authority” barriers are lowered and an opportunity to let your character shine through presents itself. Even better, take your turn at volunteering for an organizational role in one of these groups – you may become well known very quickly to a ton of people you’d never otherwise have a connection with.
If you’ve read this far I hope you see a theme to these 5 tips – and that is one of partnership and service. Instead of the mindset so common to IT tech people – let the business come first to IT for solutions, you begin to see a different perspective. (This is what the creepy schmoozers sense, I think, but don’t often go about executing very well. You, on the other hand, can bring an ethical and constructive approach to your efforts!)
Is your inner cynic rolling his/her eyebrows right now? “Yada Yada, ‘heard it all before. Look, Corp BS and political musical chairs are an occupational hazard. We IT guys and gals are mega busy and leave such cr$p to those poor Service Delivery Managers and their ilk!!”
Is that what you’re thinking?
I confess to sometimes feeling that way too. Then I chose the “path of the self-employed warrior” and found out it’s almost ALL about relationships and who you know and what you can do for them. Talent’s important, yes of course. But “out of sight, out of mind” does not a hungry coach’s stomach fill!
Finally, back to “hoping for the best and planning for the worst”. What if the worst does happen? Imagine you spend a year implementing all of the 5 tips above and then bam, slam, HR has you in an exit interview faster than you can say “chocolate credit crunchies!”
Well,which position would you rather be in once your rear skids come to a halt on main street?
An IT Professional with a documented portfolio of contributions and successes, a known team player, with a ‘warm’ contact list as long as you arm plus an improved belief in yourself (also known as “illegitimi non carborundum”. Google it!)
Just another IT job seeker?