How To Cultivate High-Potential IT Leaders
A young man who used to work for me recently sent me a career update: He had landed a higher-level job at a different company. That's no knock on my former employer. Great IT organizations tend to develop more talented people with more ambition than they can absorb. In fact, IT organizations should take pride in their ability to cultivate people other companies want.
However, for both the IT organization and the employee leaving, it's a time to take stock. Did the organization do all that it could (or should) have done to retain the bright, high-potential individual? A long recession and even longer period of hiring freezes and headcount attrition may have left the organization with a talent and age gap. More on that critical issue below.
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There are risks for job seekers as well. They need to understand that they're not the only ones exhibiting dating behavior; employers also are adept at emphasizing their attributes while minimizing their weaknesses. I was recruited a lot and changed jobs many times during my 40-year IT career, and never--absolutely never--was the actual job just like what had been described.
For those considering a new opportunity, consider my four "C" framework.
Company. Is this a company in an industry where you really want to work?
I have always had a short list of companies and industries where I wouldn't work. For example, I would never work for a cigarette company. Some people I know would never work for a defense contractor.
But even in desirable companies and industries, the high-potential IT leader must take a five-year view. Is this company going to survive intact over that timeframe, and do you want to be associated with its reputation? You don't want to be the most recent hire if a company fails or is acquired.
But most important to your career success, and almost impossible to assess as a director or VP candidate, is how the CEO and other senior business leaders view IT. The reputation of the IT organization is a good surrogate.
Career. Surprisingly few people have solid, actionable career plans. Too many people think getting a promotion is a career plan.
How does this new job support your career objectives? Is there a reasonable opportunity to reach your career goals in the new job, or will you have to change jobs again? Frequent job changes, if even possible today, can be bad for your career.
A good example: One high-potential manager with the career ambition to be a CTO and to drive technology change took a promotion as an applications director knowing that the experience working with business partners would be invaluable.
A not so good example: An application development manager left to become a network systems director at another company where the entire IT shop was smaller than a typical director organization in a large company. He wanted the title.
Chemistry/Culture. Can you be successful in this new environment?
Culture matters. American Airlines in the 1980s was a contentious, combative place to work. FedEx today has a collegial, hospitable culture, very Memphis-centric. Both environments were/are demanding and difficult for an outsider to adapt to. To be successful as a new hire, you will need help from people immersed in the culture, and that help isn't always easy to get.
I have seen people fail because their office was located in an out-of-the-way place, their first project was a disaster through no fault of theirs, or they were attacked by a colleague--and supporters of that colleague--who thought he/she should have gotten the promotion.