How To Make The Management Move

Technology Staff Editor
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So, you want to get into IT management, or move up that ladder more quickly? There's definitely demand for management skills--about 44% (119,000) more IT pros are doing management work compared with 2001, according to a third-quarter 2006 analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers. To get into this growth market, though, it's worth hearing from those who've made the transition and recruiters hiring people into these jobs. One key role today is a "link" between groups: Companies want IT individuals with business liaison, business analysis, and project management skills to provide this connection. Many people in these jobs don't have employees reporting to them, but they're managing between the tech team and a business unit or overseeing a key vendor relationship, such as outsourcers.
Poinsette makes sure Aflac's IT team knows what drives the insurance business Photo by Stan Kaady
Key to moving into and up the management ranks is maintaining technology proficiency while building business know-how and sharpening people skills. The skills needed include the ability to effectively and successfully lead projects, close the books on a budget, and motivate others, even if they don't work for you. And you won't get far if you can't talk the language of the business your company is in. At insurance company Aflac, tech workers can do job rotations in different areas of the business and are encouraged to take classroom or e-learning courses to learn about the industry and help their career advancement. "My staff all know about loss ratio," says Ken Poinsette, Aflac's VP of IT support services, citing a key metric in insurance. Building a diverse experience base has been important in his own career as well, says Poinsette, who joined Aflac three years ago after spending several years at General Electric. There, he moved up the IT management hierarchy within a couple of business units, his last position as program manager for storage systems at GE Power Systems. Poinsette took advantage of training and educational programs at GE, including earning Green Belt certification in Six Sigma and getting an MBA. There are four main areas--experience, education, mentoring, and networking--that IT professionals need to focus on in advancing their careers, says Peter Polachi, co-founder and partner of Polachi & Co., an executive recruitment firm specializing in IT. They're the same whether a person's ambition is to progress from staff level to management or to move up the IT management ranks into the CIO seat. The safe way won't necessarily work. It takes putting yourself out there by volunteering for projects or assignments that expose you to different parts of the company--and the risk of failure. "You need stretch assignments that allow you to proceed in your career," Polachi says. Polachi advises individuals to enhance their education beyond the undergrad level through tech certification courses, project management seminars, or business classes that may lead to a degree. "No one wants to go to school on a Tuesday night in Boston in the middle of the winter, but it's important to take the initiative," Polachi says.

Those who are aiming to become a CIO or other top tech-leader job especially need to build diverse business skills, experience, and knowledge of global issues, says Kirsten Smith, partner at executive recruitment firm Battalia Winston International. CIO wannabes should spend some time working in the two major components of an IT organization, Smith says: the infrastructure side, which includes networks, data centers, and outsourcing; and the application side, which includes sales force automation, billing, and support, and usually gets closer to the business-unit needs. One reason CIOs need broad technical experience is that they'll be called on more often during deal making. "CIOs are being included much earlier on in merger and acquisition discussions and are part of due diligence teams," says Beverly Lieberman, president of executive recruitment firm Halbrecht Lieberman Associates. PARCHMENT MATTERS Not having an MBA isn't a deal breaker for a CIO or for higher IT leadership roles. But candidates need to have added experience to make up for it. Says Lieberman, "When I see a candidate without one, I ask questions like, 'Did you run a P&L? Do you have marketing experience?'" Ernie Park, Select Comfort's senior VP and CIO, who has an MBA from UCLA, says that an educational credential is increasingly becoming a requirement for CIOs. However, tech credentials matter, too. As CIO at Maytag before he joined Select Comfort last year, Park led IT during a global rollout of SAP ERP, and that global experience is now a big plus at Select Comfort, he says. For IT pros short on business experience, a stint in IT consulting can be a good way to learn about a range of businesses and a variety of users, says Elliot Oshman, an IT manager who's moved up the ranks at Pariveda Solutions, an IT consulting firm. That diversity of business exposure can help build relationship, contract, and project management expertise, providing an opportunity to polish skills and learn new ones for the upward climb in management. "When it comes down to it, management is all about people and relationships," Oshman says. That's true whether you have other people reporting to you or your role is more of a liaison between groups of people. As the interface that tries to keep projects, budgets, and deadlines on track, though, the role will inevitably include being the messenger of bad news. Warns Oshman, "Conflict-resolution skills are a big part of being a good manager. You may have a project that's not moving along, individuals on a team who don't get along, and you have to address those problems without having people feel attacked." Smart companies provide a career track for superstar techies to advance without becoming managers, those for whom tasks like conflict management and budgets aren't appealing. "It's not the finish line for all producers to get into management," says Eric Samargedlis, a regional VP at IT staffing firm Hudson. Talented staff can "earn as much as managers or more." Perhaps that's true for some. But in general, moving into IT management jobs brings a bump in pay. InformationWeek Research's National IT Salary Survey in 2006 found that while the average IT staffer earns $73,000 annually, the average IT manager makes nearly six figures--$99,000 a year.


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