Q: I am a CIO for a bank in Texas. Since joining the company, I have found it impossible to break into the current "good old boy" network at work. I report directly to the CEO, but he never praises my work, doesn't seem interested in going to lunch, and spends as little time as possible talking about work or anything else. Yet he has the time to do these things with other senior managers.
I've brought forth new ideas and implemented a complete bank-wide technology refresh, all while reducing costs. My reviews have been excellent, but my boss won't put anything in writing. When introduced, I am referred to as "the guy who runs IT" and not the CIO. I'm quickly losing interest in my job, but if I stay around another five years I have a pretty good salary continuation package. What would you suggest?
A: From the sounds of it, your company's CEO is in the dark about the importance of IT to the bottom line, especially in the current economy – and that ignorance is being reflected in his treatment of you. In other words, try not to take his rebuffs or lack of attention personally. If you can do that, you'll have an easier time objectively deciding your next career move.
"The issue here is really more about the CEO's views on information technology than what he thinks about you," says Matthew Podowitz, an operations and IT transformation consultant. "While it's hard to believe in this day and age that a senior business executive would see IT as a necessary evil rather than an enabler of competitive advantage, his derisive attitude towards your accomplishments suggests exactly that."
You have a number of choices for your next move and going with the "status quo" for the next five years wouldn't be a good one -- for you or for the company. So, if you do make the decision to stay, you will need to help your CEO "see the light," says Mr. Podowitz. "For a CIO, the straightest path to the CEO's heart is understanding and using IT to support the CEO's personal agenda, which may differ from the agenda of the board and the shareholders."
In your next meeting with the CEO, Mr. Podowitz suggests that you pose the following question: "What do you want to accomplish in your next five years as CEO?" If you're unable to get a straight answer, you'll need to "gently persist" until you get something tangible from him. "Take that information away and use your experience as both a business and IT executive to craft a plan that outlines how IT will support his agenda – and the party line, too," says Mr. Podowitz.
If you choose the other, more drastic option – to look for an executive position elsewhere in a very tough economy – you'll want your focus to be on career development, says Debra Wheatman, a New Jersey-based career coach. "You should start to work on building your personal brand, leveraging your network and commencing the search for a true CIO role," she says. To make this happen, you may need to change your focus and pursue new opportunities outside of the banking industry. Considering a smaller company would be a good option, suggests Ms. Wheatman.
Ray Zambroski Sr., a Seattle-based IT recruiter, recommends that before making any drastic moves, you'll want to make sure that you are reading your current situation correctly. "Sometimes, when cultural fit is at issue, what you think you may be reading may not be accurate at all, and what you think is of value and importance in work relationships may need some adjustment," he says.
Mr. Zambroski suggests finding a mentor who knows you well both personally and professionally, someone you can trust to remain objective. If you don't have someone like that in your professional circle, there is also the option of hiring a career coach. "Test out with this adviser what you are perceiving around you. Also, work with them to determine whether you yourself are making necessary and reasonable changes to ensure you are fitting in with this culture," says Mr. Zambroski. "Can you initiate a plan to make those changes – within a reasonable period of time – with clear goals and expectations of outcome?"
If you do decide to move on, you'll want to make sure that you don't get yourself in a similar situation. "Use your mentor or coach to check your work as you investigate, evaluate and select your next job and environment," says Mr. Zambroski.