Ask a Premier 100 IT Leader

Career advice: A plan for battling organizational politics

Premier 100 IT Leader Karen Sullivan also answers questions on the value of undergraduate degrees and MBAs

Karen Sullivan
Karen Sullivan, CIO and CSO at Publix Employees Federal Credit Union

Ask a Premier 100 IT Leader: Karen Sullivan
Title:
CIO and chief security officer
Company: Publix Employees Federal Credit Union

Sullivan is this month's Premier 100 IT Leader. If you have a question you'd like to pose to one of Computerworld's Premier 100 IT Leaders, send it to askaleader@computerworld.com.

I took a new job where I am expected to straighten out a real IT infrastructure mess. I was looking forward to the challenge and would not find it overwhelming except that the politics of the organization are more intense than anything I have ever seen. All parties are protecting their turf! How should I proceed? I had to deal with a problem like yours for many years and can give you some advice based on my experience. First, create a team from a cross-section of the organization so that it includes not only management personnel but knowledge workers as well. Draw up an agenda for the team members to review prior to your first meeting identifying the issues within the IT infrastructure. At the meeting, review the agenda line by line and ask for the team's feedback and how they think the problem should be solved. Take good notes or record the meeting (let everyone know in advance if you decide to record the meeting) so that you don't miss key points being made. Then work with the team to come up with a project plan to solve all the issues agreed to by the team, in priority order. While meeting with the team, make sure you thoroughly understand all the issues from every angle, and explain why it is beneficial to the business to work together as a team to solve the problems.

Of course, all of this depends on the amount of authority you are given by management. You must have their buy-in and the authority to make decisions that others may not like or agree with.

Is a college degree becoming essential at all levels in IT? That depends on your career goals. Typically, my IT organization likes to hire people with degrees because it shows initiative, but increasingly we find that hands-on experience and certifications are more valuable. And in most cases, if you want to move up within a company, a college degree is essential.

I'm at a crossroads in my career. I can accept an offer for a CTO position at a larger company, or I can stay where I am and enter an MBA program. My goal is to become a CIO. Which path is more likely to lead there? I would stay where I am and enter the MBA program. Then you will have more leverage when you do decide to move on to another position and that much more experience. In a larger company, the CTO position may not offer the authority or autonomy you are seeking. Your age may be a factor as well; getting the MBA at a younger age can be very beneficial in the long term and provide more opportunities in the future. Additionally, there is little difference in a CTO and a CIO position, in my opinion, with the exception of which executive you may report to. Ideally, reporting to the CEO is where you want to be to achieve success and not hit roadblocks reporting to someone at a lower executive level within the organization.

FREE Computerworld Insider Guide: IT Certification Study Tips
Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies