Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Who Pays Your Bills? (Really)

Although this post is targeted to CIOs, it has relevance to all of us.  Let's start off with the title.  The question I ask has several layers to it.  If it was to be taken literally, you might answer back that the person who pays your bills is your spouse, you, or with luck, the lottery.  But that's not where I'm going with the theme for today.

As a CIO I read voraciously because I must constantly consume a large amount of information.  When I look for outside help I turn to various articles on CIO.com, the Harvard Business Review, and the occasional trip into the "Management" section of the local Barnes and Noble.  Over and over again I see the same themes.  As a CIO I must:
  • Have a seat at the table (code for reporting to the CEO)
  • Build a strong network of peers both inside the company and the industry as a whole
  • Be a strong agent for change
  • Be an excellent communicator who can easily manage the same message across groups ranging from the Board of Directors to the most basic line worker
  • Be an innovator who can see "forward" and keep the company prepared to utilize the best new technologies coming down the line
  • Be versatile - meaning that I must have a set of skills that is applicable to both the business of the company and the technology group

All of this advice is good to the point that it almost seems stale, at least to me.  If I can have all of the attributes above then I'll be a raving success...or will I be?

For those of us that work for a paycheck, what went through your mind the last time you opened up your latest stub?  I'll bet that you thought something like, "Excellent! The company has paid me yet again!"  I know that sounds a little facetious as it was meant to be.  But I want to let you know that if you believe the company pays you every two weeks or so, you're wrong.

The ultimate determiner of your success, both from a monetary and career perspective, is the one person for whom you work.  Yes, I said the person, not the company.  Each of us reports to someone and that person controls our destiny.  I learned this lesson early in my career, although I have not always heeded it.

My first role in executive management was as a director for a multibillion dollar company out on the west coast (U.S.).  I had several hundred direct reports and in turn reported to a senior group director who was responsible for an organization of about 700.  My work was getting me noticed, which led to the CIO (my manager once removed) to hand pick me for a special assignment.  I was to work with eight other senior leaders from across the company on a major process re-engineering effort for the whole corporation.  Being young(er) at the time, I felt like I was on "cloud nine" and am sure that my ego was inflated.  I did my best to brush aside the needs of my direct manager in an attempt to shine for the CIO.  And shine I did, receiving a prestigious award for my work on the special engagement. 

But then something happened.  The CIO was finished with me and I had to go back to my "day job", which really wasn't such a bad thing for someone of my age/experience.  However, my destiny in terms of job growth, development, and pay had been in the group director's hands all along.  By failing to understand that one point, I mishandled my entire career trajectory within that company.  In fact, it played a major part in my decision to eventually leave for greener pastures.

CIOs, remember this one point.  You must be a lot of things to a lot of people.  You have to possess great skills, strong alliances, business acumen, diplomacy, and top notch communication skills.  But never forget the one thing that should always be at the top of your mind?  Who pays your bills?

Make sure you know who that person is and always strive to make them successful first and foremost.  Do that well and you will thrive.  Don't do that and you're taking your chances...

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