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Harish Ravi

"IT Leadership and Career Growth "

Harish Ravi
Associate Director
Core IT – Service Operations
Harish Ravi is Associate Director, Core IT – Service Operations, Quintiles. He is leading the IT Service Operations for a Large Clinical Research Organization. Harish has worked on several Green Field Projects in the last several years in various domains like - IT services, Service Management and Product Management in various industries ranging from Banking to Healthcare. Harish is a delivery focused executive and innovative technology leader with a proven track record in the global marketplace by building, managing and operating offshore operations.

Well, most of you must have come across several articles and books on leadership which talks in great detail about the competency, skills, styles, etc. What I intend to share is purely the challenge and some opportunities.

Let me start with one of my favorite/apt quote: "Leadership is action, not position" - Donald McGannon.

Leadership and Management is often interchanged and misinterpreted. Leadership is a Competence that stands distinct from Management. The latter focuses on organization, planning, execution, control, performance and ensuring continual improvement; While Leadership involves direction; Leading by example; Setting vision, goal and strategy for the group. Its specific concerns are vision, strategy, inspiration, motivation, values and culture.

Now, Let us rewind few years and understand the challenge.
The Cost focus of the last few years has emphasized management at the expense of leadership. One of the Major Challenge for any organization (be it CEO or Investors) is to have bunch of dependable folks (leaders) who can lead the vision and manage the turbulence in this volatile and ever changing Global Economic Situation. First; Leaders will put the Organization Interest before their Group/Team/Self Interest.

Till few years, most organizations were focused on objectives like (1) Reducing IT cost, (2) Increasing efficiency, (3) Automating business processes workflows. Therefore several IT projects were initiated to achieve one of these Objective, which are mostly operational in nature. Although, it may have served the business well, it has weakened leadership within the IT leadership team and fostered silo behavior, competing agendas, and a lack of a creative spark and critical dialogue in the IS organization. Few IT management teams are well-positioned, in terms of the breadth and depth of their capabilities as a leadership team, to deal with the challenges of growth, change and innovation. Others suffer from poor motivation, a shortage of passion and a lack of appropriate focus; especially in light of the changes beginning to occur around them.

Fast Forward to Today - Several organizations acknowledge the gap in their Leadership line (a.k.a Second Line) and are actively investing in building the next generation leadership to lead the organization forward.

Challenge always brings about loads of opportunities. For many enterprises, the emphasis is now shifting from cost toward growth and innovation. In these enterprises, it is imperative for the IT management team to develop its leadership capability; to lead the IS organization and to assume an active role in leading the enterprise in new directions.

For me, Leadership is about setting an example and leading the team towards the Vision. A Leader must have certain characteristic that sets him apart from rest of the crowd. (These are not comprehensive list since there are many more that makes a Leader successful).
 • Self motivated
 • Charismatic
 • Admirable
 • Strong knowledge of Business.
 • Passion for his people.
 • Foresighted.
 • Take Risks, but doesn’t jeopardize the organization.
 • Accountable.
 • Thinks of Future.

Even a small Project Team can have a natural leader emerge within the group; And he/she need not be a Project Manager to be a Leader.
In today’s complex IT Infrastructure support organization, its quite common to have areas where ownership/accountability remains diluted; be it projects or delivery or operations. We see several functional groups working in silos and getting into debates on who owns what. It’s rare to see a person from one of those groups raise and think beyond virtual team boundaries. A natural leader will see this as an opportunity to bring together the teams and assign ownerships; sometime he/she may own an action till it’s closure. Nevertheless, they successfully demonstrated their willingness to break boundaries and do what is right for the organization. You will soon realize, they are quickly seen and accepted as Leaders within the team or group; and go on leading several larger initiatives.

Leadership is not a Position. An employee can be good leader if he can motivate others by his action and help others realize their own potential. Leadership has nothing to do with Titles.

Career Development:

Careers are made. Why do I say this?

I say this, because Career is not made by a single individual. I owe my career growth to several like minded professionals that I have worked with over the last several years.
Most often, the Career Progression session between Managers and employees end up with discussions on Promotion and Pay Hike!! For most part, it would be a frustrating experience for both parties. Not every employee can be promoted every year. Promotion (vertical growth) always depends on business need and your readiness.

At least for most of the employees, Career Growth is synonymous with Promotion. Well, Promotion is one way of progressing one’s career but there are several other ways in which one can enrich their career, which inturn act as the building blocks for the much awaited Promotion (Vertical Growth) to take on larger responsibility.
As a leader it’s our responsibility to spread the awareness within the organization on some of the myths around Career Progression.

Career Growth can be Vertical, Horizontal or diagonal. While most want vertical growth, I have seen better success with Horizontal since it helps one with expanding their wings and taking on additional/new responsibility, which in turn sets the stage for a bigger role in future.

I tell my employees to treat their Career as a “Well-planned, long Journey through thick forest”. Expect to have some unexpected hiccups; Nevertheless, with right planning you can reach the destination.

I make it a point to rotate my employees every few years to ensure they get to learn something new, and thereby retain the talent and domain knowledge. And when they approach me for advice, I ask them to answer few questions before setting up the Career Goal and Plan.

What are you passionate about?
What do you want to be doing 5 years down? (Not where you see yourself)
What can put a smile on your face every day at work?
Are you good with handling People or Conflicts?
Are you good with managing relationships?

Answers to some of these will help them realize what their realistic goal should be. It will also help understand strengths. I advice my employees to build on their Strengths while knowing their areas for improvement.

In IT space, I see some broad domains like Service, Project Management, Support and Maintenance, Innovation, Architect, General Management, Evangelism, Consultancy, Vendor Management, Client/Business Relationship Management and few more. Choose the domain that interests you and work on growing either in technical or management path.

I insist my employees to have the Career discussion with their manager at least once every quarter; Make him/her aware of your accomplishments and readiness. It pays in the long run. In your job, it’s not about your current role that matters the most for career progression. We all get paid for what we do. It’s not about what you have done, but what you are capable of doing. Therefore, look at adding value and moving up the value chain and be ready to be noticed by key decision makers.

Finally, Planning and working through career is like watching a seed grow into a tree. It will yield Fruits/Flowers only if one has invested enough time and be serious about it.
Thanks for reading through – Best wishes for your Career!!