A Career Moment or Career Suicide?

By John Palinkas  |  Posted 11-20-2013
Red arrow, person, decision

A Career Moment or Career Suicide?

By John Palinkas

For many years, I have been telling a story about one of the defining moments of my IT career. When our new partner at The IT Transformation Institute heard the story, he said what I displayed was “managerial courage.” I recently attended SIMposium 2013 and ended up telling the story to some colleagues in the New Jersey chapter of SIM and realized that managerial courage is what a person supposed to do, but the end result can be a career moment—or career suicide.

Some background information: Years ago at AT&T Solutions, I was responsible for the recruitment and staffing of our operations center in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. I had established a great Bell Labs-inspired recruitment process to execute a high touch, high contact approach. AT&T decided to spin off Bell Labs and Lucent, so we reverted to using the standard AT&T recruitment process. I am sure you have all experienced something similar: Submit the job description, wait for resumes to flood in, request an interview, interview candidates, and wait for HR to finally make an offer. It’s typically a six to 10 week process.

About two months after reverting to the AT&T recruitment process, I was in the executive area when M, my vice president, saw me and said, “Glad you are here, come with me to this meeting.” The meeting was with R, the organization lead; J, my director; F, the head of HR; and M, my boss. I soon discovered the reason for the meeting was that the operations center was experiencing service delivery problems because it lacked enough experienced people. In short, my well-oiled recruiting and staffing machine was broken. And I was called to the meeting because I was the process owner.

The meeting started with R explaining how service was being adversely affected, and he relayed some complaints from our customers. J countered by explaining how the AT&T recruitment process was taking longer and delaying our hiring of new people. (I was keeping my head down and staying quiet.) R was becoming frustrated and the decibel level grew a lot higher. Here is my recollection of the dialog:

R: “The house is on fire. We need people to take water from the lake to put out the fire. Hire the people.”

J: “We are trying, but HR needs to make the offer.”

R: “Forget HR. Call the people directly and make the offer.”

J: “They will not be on the payroll and will not get paid.”

R: “I will write a check and pay their salary myself.”

The first part of managerial courage is recognizing an opportunity when it arises. I knew the solution, but did I have the courage to walk into the buzz saw? I raised my hand and said “Excuse me, may I be stupid enough to get in the middle of this?” At that moment, silence descended upon the earth. Time appeared to stop. Finally, R leaned back in his chair, waved his hand, and said, “Go ahead.” I knew that what I did next might constitute career suicide.

I explained that when a job candidate came in, he or she had a management interview, two technical Interviews and a session with HR. At the end of the day the team conducted a roundtable discussion to make the hire or no hire decision. I said I would change the roundtable discussion so that we would also decide job level and salary at that time. Also, we would call the candidate the next day and make a verbal job offer.

R said, “OK,” and was interested and listening. Before he could said anything else, I announced that I needed someone from HR working with me to process the paperwork as quickly as possible to get the candidate on the payroll so that R did not need to write a check to pay the person’s salary.

A Career Moment or Career Suicide?

“Done, you got it,” said R. “What else do you want?” Here it was, another opportunity for managerial courage. Using R’s analogy, I said I wanted someone to help fill the lake (i.e., find more candidates.) The meeting ended with everyone having action items on what they would do to support me. (A side note: everyone in that meeting was at least one or two levels higher than me.)

A week later, R saw me in the hallway and asked how it was going. All I said was that we had hired 18 people. (After all, would you be inclined to turn down a job offer if an employer called you the day after your interview?)

This story emphasizes three major necessities for managerial courage:

1.    Recognize an opportunity when it presents itself

2.    Ensure you have a plan to emerge safely from the storm

3.    Have the courage to step into the storm.

How many opportunities for managerial courage have you not noticed? How many have you noticed but were afraid to act upon? The most successful IT leaders all have something in common. At one point in their career, they had to make a difficult decision and bet the farm on the outcome of their decision. But they all displayed managerial courage on behalf of the company. If you want to be a successful IT leader, you can start by displaying managerial courage in your everyday actions.

What is your story about managerial courage? I’d love to hear it.

About the Author

John Palinkas is a partner at The IT Transformation Institute. ITTI is a catalyst for transforming the IT industry. ITTI helps change the DNA of IT teams, solving today’s problems and breaking the cycles that led to them, and to create next-generation IT organizations. John has spent more than three decades in the IT services industry, working with industry leaders like AT&T, AT&T Solutions and British Telecom. He has led numerous multimillion dollar, multiyear outsourcing and service-delivery engagements for dozens of Fortune 500 firms. He has extensive experience and expertise in IT transformation efforts, outsourcing analysis, M&A integrations and service implementations. John serves on the executive committee for NJ SIM Chapter, the leadership team of NJ itSMF LIG, and is a regular contributor to CIO InsightHe can be reached via email at John.Palinkas@TransformingIT.org, and you can follow him on Twitter via @jpalinkas.

You can read his previous CIO Insight article, “A Geek’s Guide to IT Management,” by clicking here.