Do homework for your career path

Dear Joan:
A few weeks ago my boss had a talk with me about my future at the company. He was very honest and said that although I had an excellent work record and was a good communicator and technical person, that I should consider taking a lateral job in a different department. I really like my job (I work in the computer area) and I hesitate to move from my department to a new area that I may not like. I'm also concerned that I won't move up as fast if I'm not in the department that values my contribution (the Information Services department).

My boss told me that there won't be anyone moving above me in my current job so I could be stuck here for a long time. I've been in this department for 8 years and in this management job for 4. He thinks I'll have a better chance to "stand out" in a different department that could really use my services. There are a few departments that he suggested that I have worked with extensively in the past. These departments are starting up decentralized systems units and he thinks I'd be ideal to run one of them or work in one for a few years to get different experience.

He has offered to speak to managers in these departments and "put in a good word for me." I'm 32 years old and I must admit I am feeling a little restless. I like this company and would like to stay here but I just can't decide if this is the right move for me. I'd like to move up to the manager level and I think I'm ready but I don't want to make a career mistake. What do you think I should do?

Answer:
Standing at the fork in the road is never easy. We've all heard stories that start with, "If I had only taken the other path..." To make your decision a little easier, let's do some mental traveling down the unknown path and see what it might bring.

First of all, it sounds as if your boss thinks you have what it takes to get ahead and he wants to help you. What a great situation to be in! He would never sing your praises to peers in other departments, if he didn't feel confident that you could live up to his sales job.

He appears to be a good manager because he recognizes that you are ambitious and there is nowhere for you to go and yet, he is willing to help you with your career planning. He obviously values your talent and doesn't want you to leave the company. My hunch is that he is politically smart and can be trusted to have your best interests at heart.

The fact that other departments are starting their own systems units is clearly a signal that this function is highly valued and that users want experts that can work more closely with them. There is a strong likelihood that these units will grow and need leadership-a perfect place for someone who wants to manage a specialized group of technicians.
Decentralized groups of specialists are usually highly prized experts that are in constant contact with the top managers in their department because they provide the custom designed services the department needs. In effect, these managers become mini-department heads of their own specialty department within a department. In other words, a decentralized systems manager would have high visibility and a significant degree of power.

On the downside, you may not be exposed to as many departments as you are now. The work you do will become more specialized as you focus in on one department. You may also find that you are stretched for time and resources, since your work unit is likely to be small. Another potential problem could be limited exposure to current technology advancements but this varies widely depending on the assignment.

Another issue to think about is your ability to communicate with a diverse group of people. You are likely to be working with many people who don't speak your technical language and on whom you will need to depend for your results. Another skill you will need is the ability to examine business problems and determine systems solutions that will work. This won't be the place for you if you aren't good at practical solutions or miss deadlines because you want everything to be ultra-perfect.

You may want to talk to some employees who have taken a lateral move or been rotated to other departments. Ask your boss if he can introduce you to a few of these people. Ask him if he knows about some examples where a move of this kind worked - or didn't work-and why. Ask him about the backgrounds of some of the people in the company who have been promoted two levels above you, during the last two years. If their company work experience includes a stint in different departments, it is obvious that your company wants leaders who have a broader perspective.

Only you can make the decision that is right for you. Keep in mind, however, that this choice won't seal your fate forever. If you decide that you don't like your new job, you may be able to return to your old department, move to a different department in the company or use this new experience to land yourself an even bigger job somewhere else. I vote: Go For It! 


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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