For C.S. Louis (not his real name), losing his job as chief information officer at a medium-sized enterprise did not come as a surprise. The company had been ‘delayering’ some senior executive posts for the previous six months. However, that didn’t erase or ease the feeling of rejection, as he puts it, when the management deemed it was time for IS to be “restructured”.
Louis was called to the managing director’s office where, in terse tones, the managing director told him his role had been disestablished.
His IS team was to be split into two — development and infrastructure — and the leaders of these two teams would report directly to the chief financial officer.
“At first you feel self pity,” he says. But after the initial shock he recovered and told himself, “I can’t stay like this. It is not going to help me. “You become rational and you recover,” he adds, “And off you go again. That is the only way to do it.”
Louis then tried to analyse the impact of the transition to his team, and also how the company’s top management could have handled the situation differently.
The restructuring, he explains, was across the board and did not single out IT. Nonetheless, the enterprise should have looked at it holistically and with a more long-term focus.
He accepts changes in corporate structure are sometimes inevitable. “Companies have to restructure at times because you need to adopt to the new situation, the new environment or you need to have new competencies that people may not have. It is understandable.”
But cutting management jobs without consultation or extensive analysis of the situation is also unwise, he says. “I don’t think it is the response to being efficient and certainly it is not the response for creating more revenue. It is the obvious way out. In some aspects it is easy to complete. You can show the results straight from the bottom line, but it is not sustainable.”
Louis believes that prior to restructuring, the company should have gathered the heads of the departments and reviewed all the projects to see which could have been deferred or implemented differently to find savings.
What was missing, he says, was this discussion. “We should look at the other side of the coin. How can we increase revenues? How can we grow? You can shave costs to a certain point, [but] you have still got to operate.
“If you can get people that can think together, that is a critical force you have in a company and you have got to facilitate that. And you have got to have the environment where you can practice at being good at that.”
Lost and found
Louis was concerned about the impact on the IS team. The company had spent two years developing new systems and putting them in place, with the ICT team very much involved in working with the rest of the units.
What the staff feared, he says, was losing the ability and the opportunity to learn new technology and work on new projects. This was important for staff retention, he says. He knew then that some of his key staff would start looking for new jobs.
Louis was also proud of being able to act as an interface between the other business managers and the IS team.
“I was the moderator between what the IS team was wanting and could achieve. I was the middle person interpreting what was required, listening [to] what could be achieved and striking that balance. They were losing that interface and they knew in their hearts they are not going to take initiatives anymore, because there is nobody there to organise or facilitate that.”
The experience has provided him lessons, both personally and professionally.
“When you are enjoying the work you are doing, you have to give it everything you have got because this may be temporary. When you are leaving a job, because you are restructured or through choice, that is what remains with you. It is the achievements and having the team’s feedback that they enjoyed that time in the company.”
All jobs are temporary
His experience has led him to consider the lack of permanency of jobs in the networked enterprise.
“All job roles are temporary to some extent,” he says. “Things change, new challenges emerge. You may not be the best fit for that role. Or you may not be the right person for that company. It is part of the whole game.
“It is hard when you are on the receiving end of the redundancy,” he says, and this is exacerbated by his perception that there are fewer opportunities now for corporate managers in New Zealand. A number of companies have relocated their head offices to Australia, he notes. “I think that opportunities are few and far between in particular for very senior ICT roles, mainly because corporates are usually run from overseas. With telecommunications it doesn’t matter where you get your systems. You can run things from a central area and federate the systems as required.”
For several months after the redundancy, Louis applied for several CIO or equivalent roles in various organisations. “At times you wonder, ‘Is there really a skills shortage’? I can’t see those vacancies at all,” he says. “And you end up with these scenarios where they are asking for a specific kind of skills. For instance, if you have got ERP experience, it has to be a certain brand of ERP in a certain industry.
“It is almost like getting back into this industrial age of employment, where you have got to have specific technical or industry skills to fit the role — as opposed to finding the person who would have the skills to adopt and learn, and having that cross-skilling.”
He sent CVs to CIO colleagues and to his former general manager now working in a trans-Tasman role. They did not reply to his email.
But he ploughed on, knowing that somewhere there would be a role where he would be able to use his skills honed from working in a range of industries, along with the postgraduate degree he completed while working full-time at his most recent role.
Louis has since worked on several consultancies, while looking for a permanent full-time role in a company that he hopes would meet his criteria. As he says, “It is refreshing when you find a company that brings IT into the actual understanding of the business. That is where you get the most out of IT because the person leading IT can understand the other functions, where they are coming from, where the pressure points are, how you can help them. It is that facilitation of skills.”
He concludes, “I am really looking forward to getting my teeth into something new and some challenges and achieving again.”
Postcript:: C.S. Louis is now chief operating officer of a company that has no links with his previous employer. And yes, the IT function reports to him.
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