Gary Laroy, a U.S.-based client delivery executive at Electronic Data Systems, hasn't worked in the same state as his boss for many years. In fact, at any given time, he may have two or three different bosses under EDS's matrixed management structure. He hasn't ever received an official career road map from the company, nor has he ever expected one.
Brian Ellerman is the site manager of scientific information systems at Sanofi-Aventis in Arizona, U.S., a $US25 billion global pharmaceutical company with headquarters in New Jersey, U.S. and Paris. He reports to multiple managers, one in New Jersey and another in Tucson, and to a global service director in Paris. No single manager or team leader is responsible for managing his job performance or salary. Instead, they all have a say in his annual review and compensation.
Laroy and Ellerman are among the millions of U.S. professionals who toil far away from managers, mentors and others whose approval and influence can make or break a career. As many as nine out of 10 employees now work at locations other than company headquarters, according to Nemertes Research in the U.S. Moreover, 83 percent of executives -- up from 57 percent last year -- surveyed by Nemertes consider their companies to be virtual workplaces -- defined as having employees who work away from their supervisors or work groups full or part time.
But judging from a spot check of career experts, business executives, human resources managers and IT professionals, very few companies have updated career paths and management plans to reflect the increasingly decentralized nature of work, especially in IT. For the most part, IT professionals working in the wild are pretty much on their own when it comes to managing their careers.
Sanofi, for example, does have a career development plan that enables employees to follow different tracks reflecting their interests and skill sets, ranging from technical expertise to global management. But managing one's career is still up to the individual employee. "If you think your boss has some kind of plan for you, you're wrong," says Ellerman. "You are responsible for your own career."
As developers, business analysts, subject-matter experts, data mining specialists and others in IT migrate through projects for various business departments and managers, career management remains very much a do-it-yourself activity. Here's a compendium of survival tips from successful IT professionals who have continuously advanced their careers while working far from their corporate homelands.
Learn to live off the land
As part of a small IT team in the field, you become more critical to that business unit than you might be at headquarters, says Peter Walton, vice president and CIO at Hess. "Outperform your local site manager's expectations, and that word will get back to your functional manager," he says. In smaller locations, such as branch or regional offices, "most collaborations are cross-functional and face-to-face, which means you'll generate more innovative solutions than your counterparts back at headquarters," Walton adds.
Jimmie Jackson, an IT district manager for the U.S. Postal Service in San Diego, jumped at the chance to coordinate local work on a national billing and accounts-payable project that IT is running at USPS headquarters in Washington.
"When you work for an organization like the USPS with 800,000 employees, you have to be aware of what you can do to make yourself known," Jackson says. "Volunteering locally for a national project that has visibility all the way to headquarters is a good way to do that. Working on a project or system that people use every day helps remind them of your success on a daily basis."