2012 Resolution: Take charge of a problem

Putting yourself in charge of a cross-functional problem is strong medicine for your career, and it will make your job easier. Here’s a story I heard from an IT group manager at a division of a large company.

The email came from the division GM:  The IT manager’s group was in red status because they were working too many hours (this is a true story).  Despite the manager’s positive evaluations from his group and his boss, the GM wanted the manager’s improvement plan.

Our hero had a serious dilemma.  He was taking heat for something that was really a cross-functional issue outside of his control.  If he pushed the problem back on management, he’d just be whining.  If he ignored the problem, his performance ratings would suffer. Either way, his personal reputation in the company was on the line.

The cross-functional issue in this story is that the IT group was being bullied into accepting unrealistic schedules by the operating groups.  Each operating group wanted the shortest possible schedules for their own projects, and none of them was concerned about other group’s needs.  This was an organizational problem that was outside of the IT group’s control.

The way out of the dilemma is to first make “local” improvements that are possible within your own group and publicize this effort, and then leverage that success into a broader solution.   For example, the IT group could insist on a 35% schedule margin to allow for bug fixes in previous releases.  A local solution like this can’t completely solve the cross-functional problem, but then you have a case for launching a broader, cross-functional solution.

This process of leveraging local improvements into cross-functional initiatives takes political skill, but when you pull it off, you’ll make your own life easier and build your reputation as a problem solver.

In a companion post, I explain a four step process to carry this all off.

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