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Politics in IT: Separate operators from performers

Al Kuebler | Feb. 7, 2011
There's politics in IT. Are you shocked to hear it? I didn't think so. But it can be negotiated. It comes down to knowing what sorts of people are around you. I'll get to that in a bit, along with some advice for dealing with the bad players, but first let me tell you about two times in my career when politics came to the fore.

FRAMINGHAM, 7 FEBRUARY 2011 - There's politics in IT. Are you shocked to hear it? I didn't think so. But it can be negotiated. It comes down to knowing what sorts of people are around you. I'll get to that in a bit, along with some advice for dealing with the bad players, but first let me tell you about two times in my career when politics came to the fore.

Incident No. 1

I had just renegotiated a multiyear contract with a major outside IT service provider that would save the company $6 million in each of the next three years. I was feeling confident about my competence as CIO, but at the same time, I saw indications that my days at this company might be numbered. The CEO who had hired me was now leading a rival company. We had been close, and a couple of my peers on the senior management committee had asked me whether I would follow him. There had even been subtle suggestions that I might be feeding our former CEO information about how our IT function was used to outcompete the competition. It was a baseless suspicion, but it's not easy to remove such a stain even when you're completely innocent. Shortly after my success with the renegotiation, the new president and CEO called me to his office. Once I was there, he cordially congratulated me on my negotiating success. In fact, he said, my performance had been consistently superior, but due to reasons he could not discuss with me, he would have to let me go. My competence was not called into question, and that was gratifying, but I was out of a job anyway.

Incident No. 2

Seeing the executive who hired you move on isn't unusual, of course. When it happened to me another time, I was left reporting to a committee of three senior executives who didn't know what they wanted the IT function to do. They would ask me what I considered to be the best path to take, but my carefully weighed responses would be interrupted by them as they argued with each other. I was being given three competing lists of priorities, and pointing out their contradictions only prolonged the meetings. None of them would give an inch. If they all hadn't had other meetings to attend, those sessions might have never ended. No one can serve two masters, and I found myself with three. I wasn't learning anything, which has always been of great importance to me, and I had the feeling that my situation was going to end poorly, so I began looking for another position. As soon as I found one, I resigned. Again, my performance was not the issue, and even though I had moved on through my own initiative, another change in my career happened because of events I had no control over.

 

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