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Avoid Having Your Promotion Become a Career Disaster

According to a major study, every year American companies lose $350 billion due to having disengaged employees (The Gallup Management Journal Online Columns). The primary reason for these employees being disengaged is the lack of management and leadership ability among the ranks of their direct managers. Nowhere is this problem of weak management ability more painful and prevalent than in Information Technology.

The key reason for this is that the skills of an IT manager are so different from those of an IT practitioner (which we sometimes refer to as a doer) that experience and success in the latter do not prepare one or indicate ability for success in the former. Furthermore, the entire process of promoting new IT managers from the ranks of IT professionals is, at best, weak, even among some of the most enlightened organizations. Many companies will simply "anoint" the new IT manager and expect him/her to "learn the ropes." "She was a great programmer, so she will be a great IT manager," you often hear. And so, every year, thousands of companies promote star technical performers into IT management roles, with high expectations that they will automatically "figure out what to do" and love their new bigger-title job. What will happen in most cases, however, is easily predictable. As they move through this unguided promotion process into the role of IT manager, many formerly confidant and stellar workers will become less-than-stellar managers.

These new and unhappy IT managers will then repeat the classic blunders of their equally unguided predecessors, and rack up a sizable portion of that $350 billion per year expense. Given the huge importance of IT alignment and the necessity for strong leadership in order for a company to successfully execute its strategic plans, the true impact most likely exceeds even this hefty price tag. Worse still, the individuals who left their successful positions as high-quality technology performers to become poor-performing managers also suffer in terms of personal confidence, happiness, and in some cases, the derailing of what otherwise could have been a successful non-managerial career.

The good news is that if you have been recently offered a promotion to IT management or are a potential candidate for a management position, there is a great deal you can do to keep your career on track.

Avoid having your promotion become a career disaster

There are two very important things that you can do to avoid career disaster. First and foremost, make sure that IT management is the right move for you. Moving from a role as a technical professional to a role as the manager of technical professionals is a big decision. It will place a huge demand on you to learn new ways of working and thinking. If your core values and needs are not satisfied by the demands and rewards of an IT management position, we can guarantee that you will not be successful and that you will become progressively more unhappy.

Secondly, if you decide that IT management is the right career move for you, approach it with the understanding that even though you are working for the same company, you are, in effect, starting a new job. You will no longer be the top technician, but rather an entry-level manager. Your new job will require new skills as well as a new mindset. Be open, prepared to learn, and prepared to abandon your old role completely.

Experts in Human Capital Management today are rapidly recognizing that the model of assessing an employee's need for orientation, coaching, support, learning, and development, based on how long the person has been with the company, tends to fall short. Under this old model, your need for orientation was thought to end upon the completion of a ninety-day career with the company. After that, you were a member of the team who knew his/her way around. If you were promoted to a new role a year later, you were expected to simply hit the ground running, like a pro. Today, we know that this is not how it works.

Recent models recognize that an employee's need for orientation, coaching, support, learning, and development are cyclical, and that the commencement of a new "lifecycle" is triggered by a role change. One of these models, the Employee LifecycleŠ HR Model, was developed in 1997 by Dr. Jon Couture, a Senior Vice President of Human Resources with a global technology consulting and outsourcing company. In Dr. Couture's model, an employee lifecycle represents the time, from beginning to end, that an employee spends in a specific role within the company. For example, if you have been promoted twice, and moved laterally once, over a period of six years, you are considered to have enjoyed three lifecycles in a six-year career with your employer. Dr. Couture points out that every role change places the employee at the beginning of a new lifecycle.

The proof of the value of this cyclical, systematic approach to supporting people can be seen in the success of businesses who have successfully used this model as a means of promoting and supporting a highly mobile workforce of knowledge-workers in a manner that has improved employee productivity and satisfaction, while reducing employee turnover to a level below the industry standard. This model embodies one of the most important methods employed by the company in becoming the employer of choice in the IT consulting and outsourcing space. It is a huge plus in an industry fueled by knowledge-workers.

-Jim Donovan
Excerpt from the new book, "Manage I.T.", by Joe Santana and Jim Donovan (Lahaska Publishing). For more information and a free e-book, visit