There are plenty of great resources on the Internet that offer excellent perspectives on management and leadership that can be readily applied to those working in corporate IT. And one would think with the vast amount of excellent free advice, all managers would excel at their jobs. Alas, today the demands on IT management make readily putting that advice into practice exceedingly challenging. Recently I’ve been contemplating on how to best articulate what I feel is the dichotomous role a corporate IT professional has in today’s workplace.
- Deliver on what your manager of the moment expects
- Deliver on what your role is expected to deliver to the organization
Why “dichotomous”? More often than not, what your manager expects can be incongruent with what the organization expects.
One might think all you have to do is understand your job description, your department/team/personal goals and objectives and go off every day and do your job. And for some they maybe enjoying this straight forward, obvious job function clarity. But for most, I would feel confident in saying that seeking this expectation clarity can consume a significant number of brain cycles everyday with varying degrees of success. Frequently, your manager’s expectations differ with what the organization expects. What forces are at play creating this dichotomy and what can you do to stay sane over time?
Biggest Contributors to Role Dichotomy? Lagging Goals + Manager Shuffling
First, Lagging Goals
I know of no study or statistical evidence to support my claim, but I feel rather confident in saying that the rate of change in IT has increased dramatically in recent compared to prior years. Step back and take a sample of recent IT management articles. How many are asking the CIO role to change? How many are saying you have to have a mobile work force, outsource development or leverage “the cloud” or risk falling behind? With all that rapid change, in my opinion, pragmatically, gone are the days of SMART goals. Recently, Pawel Bordzinski posted an article similarly calling SMART goals into question here. Sure, MBA academics and management blog pundits will tout the benefits of clearly articulated goals leading to reports having increased delivery success and improved job satisfaction.
Let me be clear up front; I am not contradicting the sound fundamentals of solid goal setting. But unfortunately, with corporate fiscal cycles starting/ending and thus “trickle down” goals trailing six months or more from the cycle start, the average corporate IT employee is lucky to get written goals if they get any goals at all. In looking back over my last five years I probably can point to only two situations where I actually was given documented goals for my job role. In both cases, the fiscal year had already been underway for a good five or six months before I got those written goals.
Why the lag in goal delivery when all sound management principles suggest timeliness equals improved organizational success? In a phrase:
The current corporate business climate expects IT change at such a rapid rate that lagging goals can’t easily, if at all, keep up with the organizational change and subsequent overlapping vision changes.
These typical corporate IT scenarios may seem extremely similar to many and they help illustrate my point. Consider how established goals would need to be handled in each case:
- The company hires a new “chief marketing officer” who has a new chunk of budget to spend on a “mobile strategy”. Suddenly, new IT projects are kicked off to deliver mobile solutions.
- An IT Director of the “something” department retires and a new Director is hired from outside the organization. Managers reporting to the previous Director either start reporting to new areas of the organization or start leaving the company. The new Director starts hiring replacement mangers from his prior company.
In the first scenario, assuming managers, teams and individuals had goals that reflected pre-CMO priorities, all now have to wind down a bit on what was previously being worked on and wind up on what the new CMO sponsored projects entail. Sticking to pre-CMO priorities are just not an option. The company clearly has a strategic gap hence the CMO was hired in the first place. Thus, ignoring the CMO’s “high priority” projects because they don’t fit nicely into prior communicated priorities and goals is effectively ignoring the business needs of the company.
In typical corporate IT fashion, the priority of these new CMO projects has been communicated from the top of the house down thus the entire IT delivery management structure is trying to figure out how to reshuffle in-flight work in order to accommodate them. The crisis of the moment has shifted from whatever was the previous crisis to the new CMO project delivery crisis. The company wasn’t strategic enough to see the need for a CMO earlier as new media outlets were creating new demand, what is to say the organization is strategic in addressing new IT project priorities? Lastly, with IT departments cut staff and budget-wise due to the recent recession, what management structure is going to stop and revise all previously documented goals? The demand for flexibility, agility and rapid change makes it next to impossible to be able to cleanly re-write goals as priorities shift.
If the goal setting challenge faced a stagnant organizational chart, then there might be some HR efficiencies all could leverage, but on top of priorities changing, org structures rarely stay static for more than a few months. The second part of this article will dive into what compounds the goal problem for corporate IT employees: rapid organization and management reporting structure changes.