Get organized and get ahead

If you’ve come to the point in your IT career where you couldn’t give a damn about moving up in the ranks, where your mortgage is paid off and you couldn’t care less how the whims of senior management affect your future, you may as well stop reading right now — this column’s not for you.

The rest of us who may have aspirations to corporate or organizational IT management, we’ve got to figure out how to get ahead without sacrificing everything we hold dear — a CIO or vice-president of IT title isn’t much of a consolation for a wrecked marriage or kids that won’t talk to you.

In the interests of a sane and sound move up the ranks, let me make a few small personal organization suggestions: they just may help the world to see that you’re on top of your game, and well deserving of the next promotion.

Plan to come in early and stay late. I’ve been asked about this a few times — which one is better for the career? The news isn’t good — if you really want to move ahead, you’ve got to do both. Those who come in early get a jump on the day when everything is quiet (they’re usually the ones with well-prepared meeting agendas), and those who stay late (it shouldn’t be necessary to stay any later than 6 p.m. or 6:30 p.m. on most days) are the only ones who really see what goes on in the organization. Most of the important discussions about strategy, direction and IT organization (and you want to be in on these discussions whenever you can) take place at the end of the day, when most of the staff has left. You won’t usually see executives on the floor canvassing opinions, seeking ideas or discussing options until the place is almost empty, and only the serious players are still around.

In between, keep yourself healthy and sane by going for a long run at lunch — go ahead and take an hour and a half. If you’re in early and stay late, nobody’ll complain.

Return every phone call every day. The IT staff who are most on the ball return every call every day. In these days of voice mail and a backlog of a dozen messages in a morning, it’s understandable that you’d let some of your voice mail just sit in the in-box. Understandable, but unacceptable.

Getting back to someone the same day they called, even if it is at 8 p.m. just to leave a message on voice mail (“Sorry I couldn’t get back to you earlier today, but I did want to call and tell you that I did get your message”), tells callers they are important to you, you care about the message, and that you can be counted on to close the loop.

Manage your e-mail. Along the same lines, if you need to think about a response to a question posed in an e-mail message, don’t just let the message sit in your in-box. If someone has receipt confirmation turned on, they’ll think you’re simply ignoring them.

It make sense to take a day or two to think about how you want to respond. Many of us have developed the unfortunate habit of answering e-mail too quickly and without much thought. Just because the technology allows us to fire back an immediate response, doesn’t mean we always should. If you want to think about your response, send back a message that says, “I’m thinking about it.”

It sends the message that you’re thoughtful, and that the original writer is important enough to deserve your full consideration.

These are the kind of behaviours you see with the fast-trackers.

Hanley is an IS professional living in Calgary. He can be reached at