"A relationship ... is like a shark. It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark." - Woody Allen (as Alvy Singer) to Diane Keaton (as Annie) in "Annie Hall" (1977)If, career-wise, you're feeling like a dead shark in your information-technology organization, look no further than your own company to get swimming again.
Many IT professionals are finding plenty of forward motion in waters close to the shore: Their companies are recognising the value of translocating IT staff - moving them into new roles, with new responsibilities and technical challenges.
Employees who move around within their organisations say they stay challenged, feel fulfilled and develop a sense of loyalty to their organisation. And IT managers who have adopted the practice say it has increased both staff retention and IT effectiveness.
"It really creates breadth in an individual," says Karen Madison, human-resources manager for IT at Corning in New York, where translocation is part of the culture. "Acquiring best practices from a number of different assignments," she adds, "is a great way to better your effectiveness and [is] a great career builder."
For Tyson Foods, translocation is a critical component of a retention strategy that has reduced annual turnover from 14 per cent to 6 per cent, says Gary Cooper, CIO and vice president of MIS at the Arkansas-based company.
"We must have a long-term strategy to recruit, train and move people around the organisation, and have valuable team members who are experienced and know the business," he says.
Creating technology-business hybrids was the goal when Tribune in Chicago implemented a formal job-rotation plan, the Technology Leadership Development Program. Strengthening the company's technical competence in the business units was essential to its future, says Sharon Mandell, vice president and chief technology officer at Tribune Interactive.
Employees interested in shifting into a new role should identify areas where they can make an impact and approach their immediate manager with their ideas.
Don't skip any links in the management chain, advises Brian Anderson, vice president and general manager of the San Francisco office of Personnel Decisions. And if a company doesn't already practice job translocation, be prepared to help cultivate a new perspective, he adds.
"Managers know the pain of losing top talent, even if it's to the department across the hall," Anderson says. "So if your company is not doing it now, it really requires a cultural change."
Here's a look at how movement within a company has advanced the careers of three IT professionals:
1. Carla Woods, manager of enterprise operations, Tyson FoodsYears at the company: nineJobs held (responsibilities) before current position:
Programmer (Cobol reporting), payroll and human resourcesMiddleware applications development team (business analysis, software design and training, Digital's ACMS, VMS-based middleware for client/server environments), purchasing/materials managementACMS administrator (release management and change control)Project manager for a Hewlett-Packard OpenView project (implemented automated management of Tyson's computer systems)Manager of disaster recovery (systemwide)Job that was the biggest change: The OpenView project. [Gary Cooper, Tyson's CIO] plucked me out of my ACMS job for that one because he said he needed someone tenacious. It was a very good opportunity.
Biggest challenges: They've been more with the people relationships - for example, convincing people of the change with OpenView. Some people were threatened by that in the beginning because ... they thought they would be replaced by the system. Moving into my current position was a challenge because the man who came to work for me had been in IT for 17 years and had been the data center manager for six years, so it was a big change for him. Before, we both reported directly to Gary ... and now he was reporting to someone between him and Gary. We've worked it out well, but in the beginning there was a big period of feeling out ... "How is this going to work?"
Lesson learned: It's better to be honest and direct and cut to the chase than try to be overly sensitive to people's feelings and skirt the issue.
Job satisfaction: I told them years ago I have a low threshold for boredom. They always have a problem for me to attack, something new on my plate. When you're happy, you don't go looking, even when others come recruiting.
Advice to a would-be job mover: The fruit is at the end of the limb, and you have to go out on the limb to get it. If you want a new challenge, you're probably an ambitious person, and you would be valuable to any team. I can't imagine a manager wanting to hold someone back if they're unhappy -- happy people do a much better job than frustrated people.
2. Nedra Plonski, project manager, Tribune Media Services, Tribune, ChicagoYears with the company: three years, 11 monthsJobs held (responsibilities) before current position:
Desktop computing consultant (researching impact of Windows 95 rollout on end users, developing recommendations as well as desktop and LAN support)Senior consultant, Tribune Technology Learning Center (established end-user training center)Member of Tribune's Technology Leadership Development Program, including three six-month projects and two three-week assignments in Tribune's interactive, education, broadcasting, publishing and media services unitsMotivation: I had been in applications development, and I was more interested in the business end of things and moving up in management. This was a chance to open my horizons ... to understand all the areas of Tribune's operations, keeping the technology focus but learning the business issues.
Career path before the program: I didn't see my career going anywhere. [Laughs.] I saw myself with a lot of potential, but sometimes it's hard to become visible and make your way up through the management ranks. So the rotation program was like a hand reaching down and saying, "Go, do your stuff."
Biggest eye-openers: The increase in visibility was incredible. We reported directly to [Jeff Scherb, Tribune's chief technology officer]. We had to make presentations to executive committees. And there was a big change in the level of expectation -- we were expected to be superior performers.
How to deal with increased visibility and expectations: The key was developing a sense of teamwork among those of us in the program. We also had executive mentors. But for day-to-day survival, it's more appropriate to go to your peers and use mentors for more strategic things.
Change in perspective: I would have always thought of myself as a corporate IT type. Now I don't - I understand the issues relevant to specific business units. I have a global view with the ability to apply it locally.
Job satisfaction: When they're willing to invest in me, I'm willing to invest in them. It's like I just got a master's degree in Tribune. I feel I can move much more effectively and quickly within Tribune than I could by leaving.
3. John Plummer IT division manager, Steuben division and Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, Corning, New York.
Years with the company: 13
Jobs held (responsibilities) before current position:
Applications developer (PL/1, Assembler, Cobol, RPG), Consumer Products division plant, Green Castle, Pennsylvania.
Database analyst (Computer Associates International Inc. Datacom mainframe database), Consumer Products division plant, Green CastleDatabase administrator (Datacom), corporate IT, CorningTeam member and later manager, Decision Support and Executive Information Systems (building data warehouses before they were called data warehouses ), corporate ITInformation Resources Management group leader (a group he created and spearheaded to plan, deliver and manage Corning's data architecture), corporate ITIT transfer manager (planning and managing the separation of IT systems associated with the sale of Corning's Consumer Products division), corporate ITCommon thread: In each role, I've been interested in making sure IT is an enabler and that employees have the quality information they need to make decisions. In function, responsibilities and technology, I've had tremendous diversity - the techniques and skills for each role have been different.
How to request a move: It's about looking for opportunities and framing things in such a way that management understands you are looking for an opportunity to help the company - that it's not a self-serving venture, it's collaborative.
How to design your own job: I spent a lot of time researching the issues and looked at the costs and benefits. I also did benchmarking studies with other companies. I did a lot of research on my own time, and I joined associations - I got involved with people who were becoming the experts in the field. Then I submitted a 15-page proposal that I wrote on my own time.
Motivation: I believed it was important. And it was fun. I certainly felt the normal fear and trepidation associated with presenting something new, but you have to take some measure of risk.
How to determine the next right move: Spend time with coaches and mentors. [Having them] is a really important part of development, and you can't wait for someone to volunteer or assign you to someone. They should be ... people who have been where you're trying to go. Talk to them about what the organisation needs, what they see as the next IT requirements. Then look at whether there's a void you can fill.
Job satisfaction: Because I play an active role in shaping my career, I feel a tremendous connection to what I do for Corning. If you place your development and career growth and potential in the hands of others, you should be satisfied with only achieving a degree of success. And success is measured not only in dollars and cents, it's measured in fulfillment, and I feel very fulfilled by my job.