Hello! Here’s the dilemma facing myself and four other coworkers: we are contractors working on a government project as ‘homeland security analysts.’ The project itself is great, but it’s our contracting company that has lately been causing some issues.
For some history, we were the first ‘analysts’ hired by this company, as they primarily deal in IT. What we do is not IT at all. The company was trying to get their foot in the door in the ‘analysis’ field and we were their first ‘hires’, but we were told by them that they would be growing in that area and that we would be able to move to other ‘analyst’ projects if we ever got tired of ours….which we found out later was a lie.
Well, we had our quarterly meeting with out management team last month and all the other employees there were IT, so it was a very tech-heavy discussion. When it came time for us ‘analysts’ to ask questions, they had no answers for us as to exactly where our job description fit in on their IT Org Chart, and we were told they’d ‘get back to us.’
When I questioned exactly what we would need to move up in the company, they told us we would need to take on IT duties since they don’t have an ‘analyst’ job path set up! On top of that, we found out that after three years we are still the only ‘analysts’ in the company and that they have failed to hire more of them… so they lied when a year ago we were told we could always transfer to another ‘analyst’ position within the company! The CTO even asked “Are you guys our only analysts?” and “What exactly do you guys do?”
But the main problem we have is that we were told by our CTO that we would need to ‘move towards the IT side’ in order to move up in the company. It seems clear now that they have no clue what to do with us, and maybe never will. Most of the blame for this should lie with our Project Manager, who we only see four times a year. But he was the one who hired us and dealt with us over the past couple of years, and now with his boss (the CTO) around neither one of them seems to know what to do with us, or care!
All of us felt insulted that we were told to ‘get more IT training’ since we all have extensive military experience in the security field and we are basically being told to change careers in order to get better raises! Any advice would help!
OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY TIMOTHY JOHNSON
Dear Annoyed Contractor,
You and your colleagues need to look in the mirror and repeat: “I am in sales. I am in sales. I am in sales.”
Yes, I read your letter. You’re an analyst. You’re a homeland security analyst. And I would be willing to bet that you’re probably a very competent and talented homeland security analyst. HOWEVER, you’re a very talented and competent homeland security analyst who did not create a strong personal brand or a value proposition that stands out and makes the right people take notice.
Often, people who are passed over for promotion or job advancement blame office politics for their dilemma. Sometimes that really is the case; sometimes the person who is passed over has not promoted himself or herself in order to make management want to promote him or her. In looking at your situation, you waited until a quarterly meeting to ask about your job prospects (putting your management on the spot… not always a good strategy to blindside them in a public forum). What communication did you have with your contracting company between quarterly meetings? Did you have a senior analyst, management liaison, or contracting sales representative with whom you worked? Did you communicate your contributions to the client to them? When you first contracted with the company, knowing that you were the first analysts hired, did you attempt any kind of proactive negotiation for your career path? It sounds like you took their word for it.
In case you think I’m coming down hard on you, in your defense, it sounds like your contracting company did not handle your situation very well. You are not IT professionals. You are analysts. It is unfair of them to expect you to become fish out of water in order to advance. As a consultant who has commonly contracted in the past, I have observed unethical behaviors in contracting firms. What this observation has taught me is to get things in writing, especially from contracting sales people and contracting recruiters. Be specific and remove any ambiguity. This is not cynicism talking as much as just common sense and experience.
In light of everything, what is your next course of action? Before you do anything, review your contractual obligations with the contracting firm. Be very focused to review where issues such as non-compete agreements and contract exits are spelled out. From there, you have a couple of choices:
1. All five of you can work together with a representative of the firm, spelling out exactly what your expectations were and what your perceptions are of the situation. Make it clear that getting IT training is not an acceptable alternative, and that you were led to believe there would be analyst career path when you signed on. You will need to also make it clear how you can add value to his organization going forward. As much as you may want to believe it’s all about you, your contracting firm will not share that view. You will also need to make a compelling statement about what’s in it for them to help you reach your career goals.
2. Homeland security has been a growing industry since 9/11, and it will continue to grow, develop, and evolve. If you are contractually able, talk to your government client and ask about being hired as full time employees. Or seek work with another contracting firm and another project. Your skills are in demand, with or without IT skills. If you are not appreciated by your current contracting firm, you always have an option to seek employment elsewhere.
Give the first option a shot first. If you get nowhere, then try the second one. You are still in control of your futures, but you will need to learn the importance of personal branding from this situation. I wish you the best. Now go out there and wow ‘em. Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.
Timothy Johnson, Author
Timothy Johnson is the author of Race Through the Forest – A Project Management Fable (Tiberius, 2006) as well as the upcoming GUST – The “Tale” Wind of Office Politics (Lexicon, 2007). In addition to writing, consulting and coaching, he teaches MBA classes at Drake University on Project Management, Creativity, and Office Politics.