Career advice: How to make amends with your boss

Mark O’Gara, vice president of infrastructure management of Washington State University, is this month’s Premier 100 IT Leader, for Computerworld’s IT leaders’ conference in Orlando.

O’Gara answers some questions about dealing with the boss, interacting with users and the best sectors for this economy.

Question: I’ve been in a new job — new company — for about five months. When I arrived, I mentioned some things to my boss’s boss that I had noticed could be done better, making us more efficient or saving us money. He was thrilled. Since then, though, I’ve had the feeling that my boss is freezing me out, giving me some routine and boring assignments. I think he figures I made him look bad, since he hadn’t noticed those things himself. I realize now I should have handled things differently, but that doesn’t help me now. How can I made amends and set things right?

O’Gara: Transitioning into a new organization is never an easy task. What appear to be easy and quick fixes to long-standing problems are usually much more difficult to resolve than your first impression of the problems.

I would suggest sitting down with your boss and having a frank discussion on your comments to his boss and ask if there are any open issues. Chances are high that the problems you mentioned to your boss’s boss are known within the organization. Next I would clarify your roles and responsibilities to ensure that you have alignment with your boss.

Remember one rule: Your job is to make your boss look good!

Q: I’m always reading in the trade press how important it is for IT pros to understand users and their needs. I’d like to get ahead, so I’ve tried this, but I just get frustrated over how clueless most users are. I can’t seem to react to them with anything but irritation.

OK, it’s not a great attitude, I can see that. Is there any way for me to change, or should I give up on advancing and just hide out in my cubicle slamming out code?

O’Gara: If I were to rephrase your question, I might ask the question like this: Do I need to interact with my customers to understand their needs and so advance my career in IT?

Advancing your career to me means that you do your job well and help solve problems.

For the IT organization to be successful, everyone needs to play their position and support the business needs of the company. If you are a programmer, you do not need to interact directly with your end users to advance your career. However, there needs to be a function within IT that has a direct interface to the customer, depending on the size and maturity of the organization.

You can advance your career by helping your peers do new things, volunteering to help solve problems, learn new technologies or simply by excelling at writing great code that minimizes network and computing resources.

Q: What sectors of the economy are most likely to be a safe harbor as we ride out the financial crisis?

O’Gara: Health care, government and energy sectors are well positioned to be a safe harbor. We are all affected by the economy, and the only variable we can really control is our performance and how we show up to work every day. We are all charged with managing our careers, and that requires connecting with people.

I would recommend you read the book Never Eat Alone , by Keith Ferrazzi (Doubleday Business, 2005), and build a personal network that you can leverage throughout your career.

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