Work Life Balance for Top IT Leaders
If you’ve got to the top in IT, the chances are that a lot of dedication and hard work got you up the slippery pole of leadership to earn you your boardroom seat. Once you’ve reached the top however, what next? Repeating the same thing in different companies can quickly lose its appeal with satisfaction often levelling off, if not dropping away. It’s at this stage in life/career when many stop and ask themselves those big life questions: “Why?”, “What’s it all for?”, “What’s in it for me?” often concluding that “There must be something more!”. Unfortunately, at the mid/late career stage your home life usually demands a certain level of income and the idea of starting afresh or giving it all up for a life in the country looks all but impossible. And yet the prospect of living a Groundhog Day career leaves many people cold and keen for something different.
If the idea of continuing that corporate grind makes you want to bang your head against the wall in frustration, there is good news. The world of work is rapidly changing and there are different options for even those at the pinnacle of their career.
While we’ve all heard of the Gig Economy, the media of late has tended to portray it as somewhat negative and exploitative. Whilst acknowledging this interpretation, the CIPD’s 2017 Gig Economy report also however describes it as “a new form of flexible working that gives individuals new choices about how, when and where they work”.
It’s at the senior levels of business leadership that the Gig Economy works well, with positive impact for everyone involved. The traditional Permanent, Interim and Contract models of working available to C-suite IT leaders have more recently been joined by Fractional working. Fractional working is all about providing a fraction of your capability, energy and skill to multiple clients for a fraction of the cost. You could also call it a Portfolio Career; working for yourself, with multiple clients, doing what you do best. Others have described this method of working as “an IT Director as a Service”, but it’s so much more than that!
This is no flash in the pan; it’s a growing sector of work and is symptomatic of what’s happening across the wider workplace. Companies are looking to hire skills as they need them rather than have them on the payroll. At the lower end, this can of course be exploitative – think cabbies and bicycle couriers – but at the top end, it can work very much to everyone’s advantage. Small and Mid-Sized businesses rarely need a full-time IT Director, but there’s no doubt they would benefit from the skills and knowledge of that person in the boardroom, and increasingly they’re willing to pay for someone who understands their business from a technology perspective.
This new way of working is proving particularly popular in the SME space where business leaders have become used to utilising cloud services and benefiting from the significant advantage this brings to the bottom line. Freelancers have supported business for many years and there are plenty of ways to connect with these people and garner their skills, but these are usually the hands-on “doers” rather than the strategists. Strategic input can’t be provided by the hour so the basic Freelancer model doesn’t work when it comes to providing this kind of input and value-add. It requires longer-term engagement and an intimate knowledge of the business.
The Fractional (or part-time) Director model works differently, using a professional services dynamic where there’s a team of like-minded, qualified people doing the same thing, sharing experience, sharing knowledge and helping one another so that everyone, client included, benefits.
More than 40% of businesses of less than £50M turnover don’t have anyone at board level who understands IT. With business increasingly technology dependent, most board-level decisions today need strategic IT input if they are to be sound decisions. Without a Fractional IT Director, the MD has very few, if any, places to turn to for independent strategic IT guidance and is thus making critical decisions with one eye shut. The Fractional IT Director fills the gap, enabling MDs to make robust decisions based on all the facts, including the technology facts.
What this means for the seasoned IT Director, CIO or CTO is that there is now an alternative to the traditional means of mid/late career progression that is a wholly new experience, one where the entire skill-set is invaluable and appreciated. One where a real difference can be made and where impact is clearly visible.
This is a highly enjoyable way to be an IT Director – multiple clients, multiple cultures, different stages of growth, different funding arrangements, a different journey every day. An escape from the corporate straight-jacket. No more presenteeism, no more timesheets. Work how you want and when you want, supported by a team of professionals all doing the same thing. This approach can bring its own challenges, but when you’ve got a network of like-minded peers around you, it’s a positive experience and not at all lonely.
A Fractional career is a lifestyle choice; it probably won’t offer the same level of remuneration as a full-time role. However, any earning reduction is offset by the flexibility and non-financial rewards that the way of working brings. If you’ve begun to think that personal fulfilment is more important than the big bucks, then working fractionally might well be your next career choice.
Once introduced, client engagements are rarely short-term. Assuming you connect with the MD and his/her business vision, they soon turn in to long-term relationships. You quickly become an integral part of the strategic team, an essential advisor making a real difference to growth plans. Going native is a positive as a Fractional IT Director – you’re their IT Director, it’s just you’re not around the whole time.
The Fractional career poses less risk than going it alone or kicking off a start-up, but the risks are still higher than the other full-time career opportunities. There is an initial period, before client work starts, without income, and so having a solid financial buffer to cover those first few months, is prudent. This allows the time to build rapport with potential clients, develop the client portfolio and get used to working as a Fractional Director.
This is the only career path offering the opportunity to work in new sectors and industries. Recruiters and corporates hiring for full time roles increasingly only want candidates with specific industry experience and the complete range of prerequisite skills. As a Fractional IT Director, it’s all about relationships. If the MD likes and trusts you, prior specific industry experience comes second to fitting in with the team. Our model offers plenty of variety; as an example, one Freeman Clarke Principal is working for a law firm, an events business and a property sector business whilst another works with an accountancy firm, a media company, a vending company and a telecoms company.
Fractional working is the only model where work/life balance works for you rather than someone else or the corporation. Our model means working approximately fifteen days a month rather than twenty. It means working when you want rather than when someone else demands, providing freedom and flexibility. No two days are the same and every day is rewarding, ultimately providing a good income AND significant personal reward. Our Principals report this way of working as being the best thing they ever did.