Do your best work every day regardless of the culture or political climate.
Another way of phrasing this critical element of success is to “stick to your guns” and perform in the best interest of the company, your staff, your customers and your shareholders every single day with diligence and quality. Gather your sources and data, and be prepared. Approach work as an evolution. You may move on in your career and find that you're re-assuming a function or a team that you established several years earlier, or find that you're living with your previous work and decisions down the road.
An example of this is when I led the enterprise architecture group for a large corporation. My first task was to establish a set of standard components for the various layers in the technology stack. I enlisted the help of an IT consulting firm and began working with each of the technology owners to gather the data and understand the pros and cons of their preferences. We selected about 100 components — a good starting point — and because of the diligence and effort that were applied during the process, many of the selected components remained implemented as viable technologies 10 years later.
An added plus for me was when I was moving on in my career, a database analyst who was recruited to support the database selection for our enterprise resource planning system thanked me for making the selections we did because it gave him a lasting and successful career. Although the objective of painstakingly evaluating and selecting technology platforms wasn't to enhance specific careers, this example does illustrate the potential longer-term effects of the work you do every day and highlights the sphere of influence you may not have realized you possess.
Doing your best work every day isn't easy regardless of the industry or size of an organization. “Good work” is debatable, particularly when adequate objective measurements are lacking (as is the case in most corporate structures). In the absence of objective measurements, following the core management practices is the best route.
Economic principles have remained constant in the IT world for the 30 years that I've been working in the field. The economic view of IT work predicts that (a) there will always be competition for scarce resources, and (b) prioritization is fundamental to staying focused on the most important aspects of technology work. The demand for services may continue to grow at exponential rates, while resources and budget remain fixed. Our history in a free market-driven economy tells us that companies will experience massive change during market disruptions, intense competition, and economic downturns, which will force once-important items to idle for awhile, or even drop off the radar.
HP (Hewlett Packard), for example, halted production of their TouchPad device and then discounted the price to sell off their excess inventory, which in turn increased market demand for the devices. In the end, HP wanted to refashion the company as a software provider, which meant exiting the tablet market and shifting away from the associated WebOS software, ultimately ending the company's reign as a legacy hardware company. These types of events don't necessarily make customers, employees, or shareholders happy, even if the strategic shift is driven by the board of directors.
You have to enable yourself to do your best work within the constraints, and speak to those constraints clearly and unapologetically. One CIO whom I worked for was particularly skilled in maneuvering the ship during difficult times. Most companies have their catch phrases for defining a lean environment, and he would refer to the constraints and the shift to a more focused mindset as operating in a “lights on” mode. Even with that articulation he was often surprised at how difficult it was for his own senior team to lessen their desires for new systems and enhancements that weren't funded, solely because of the shift in company priorities.
In my senior IT role at this company, the customers of our demand-tracking system were from finance as well as the IT organization. My team had just completed the first phase of the demand-tracking system by integrating it with our labor-tracking application, allowing us to build capital projects from the ground up in terms of labor hours, skill sets, and costs needed for that particular effort. After that initial implementation, change requests were coming in at a rapid pace to add functionality. This is a standard phase of post-project deployment. You want new ideas and suggested improvements to come from the constituents who interact with the system. For example, the finance executives wanted to attach a data mart to the system so that they could develop their own reports, and the IT executives wanted to add job scheduling functionality.
The interesting phenomenon was that these executives, who would never consider starting a systems project without adequate resources or funding, expected our current support team to slip their change requests in during the team's spare time. There was no spare time, of course, and nothing is as easy as it appears on the surface. My team diligently collected all of the requests, prioritized them with their input, and then assessed the cost. Once those data were available, we presented them to the CIO for approval, and he began crossing out line after line of requests. We ended with a small enhancement budget to make only the changes that were the most important to the company. The finance and IT executives were a bit stunned, since this was a far cry from the $30 million-or-so projects they were used to seeing.
In the end, everyone was redirected to the overriding task at hand, which was to shift the internal IT service delivery model toward an external outsourcing model. My team subsequently made the changes to the system that were funded, and we made sure that those changes functioned as designed. We didn't satisfy everyone, but we did the best work under the constraints. Diligence and quality make a difference, even in the face of political fury, or when decisions, changes, and outcomes >aren't popular.
Match your work ethic to the business strategy and expectations of your role.
It's imperative to know whether the company is looking for innovation, lower operating costs, improved quality, or some other goal so that your efforts can be directed toward the work that ultimately achieves the company's goals, and primarily, so you don't overwork and spend time in areas that won't propel your career. Content may be “king” in the media and entertainment business, but strategy is everything in the business world and in IT. According to Joshua Ehrlich, founder of the Global Leadership Council, "many managers still spend too much time doing and not enough time thinking."
While attending the 2011 Management Conference at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, James E. Schrager, Clinical Professor of Entrepreneurship and Strategic Management, challenged the attendees to view the relationships between strategy, management, and pure luck within their own businesses in order to make better decisions in the future. He defined strategy as a clearly focused plan for the business, while management took on the necessary actions to implement the plan. Luck was just that, an occurrence or result that requires no plan or action. Luck just happens. Without knowing the plan or ideas about the business, the ‘doing' part becomes speculative work.
IT organizations are typically positioned in one of two ways within a company, either as a strategic partner within the business units, or as a cost center focused on delivering service at the lowest price point. If you're in the latter category, it's best to understand that up front and look for ways to achieve that goal first, rather than expending all of your energy trying to change the ordained view of your organization and the expectations of your role.
I've seen many executives, both women and men, try to respond to every desire from the Club. This happens because in the absence of clear strategies from the most senior levels of the company, it's easy to fall into a “repair and nurture” cycle, reactively “fixing” every issue placed in front of them, and nurturing an outcome that takes valuable resources away from the outcomes that are critical to the company's future.
Janet Pucino is a Southern California-based author who recently NOT IN THE CLUB, An Executive Woman's Journey through the Biased World of Business. This is an excerpt from her book. As a highly experienced Information Technology (IT) executive, Janet Pucino held senior level CTO and VP positions throughout her career at some of the most recognized companies in the media and entertainment, financial services, and technology industries, including Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., Discover Card, The Kemper Group, and the International Networks Division of Motorola. Janet ran every facet of IT during her executive career. Her new book titled "Not in the Club: An Executive Woman's Journey Through the Biased World of Business" debuted February 1st.