Becoming a “Suit”

Posted on: February 16th, 2016 by
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A strange event happened that caused me to reexamine my status as a “go-to” person. What was the event? I became a “SUIT”… a Vice-President.

Before this event I was a highly productive contributor as an internal consultant within the corporation, with a wonderful reputation. Division general managers right down to foremen and sales managers would ask me to help them with an organizational, business or management problem. My job was to build work environments that would increase performance and productivity within a team-based, goal driven, collaborative work place. Then disaster struck… I was named a Vice-President. Everything stopped: The phone calls, the requests for support, the relationship building experiences. What happened?

As I finally figured out, it was the organization’s perception of what a Vice President was supposed to be and do. Even though I was no different than what I was before, my title changed their view of me. I was a “SUIT”. I was seen as a power source rather than an enabler: An executive rather than an internal facilitator. In their eyes I was a judge of their performance rather than a consultant to enhance their performance. Now when I sat down with an executive, a manager, or a work group, it took 50% of my time to re-wire their perceptions of me, and what I could do to assist them. I now reported to the President of the Corporation, which became a barrier to my effectiveness.

Why am I telling you all this? What did I do about it? Let me enumerate:
You might experience something similar as you raise to become a supervisor, manager, director or Vice President within your current organization or in a new company
Be careful what you wish for. Each step in your career will be different than what you thought it would be. Analyze the upside and downside and make sure it’s what you want.
As you move up the organization, those above you, peers, and those below will see you differently. Expect it. Figure out how you want to handle the changes beforehand.
Those that you leave behind organizationally won’t be sure how to relate to you. Are you their resource, friend, boss, supporter, or something else, and will they deal with you differently? You’ll need to help them understand your new role.

What did I do about my change of status? I focused on two things:
As a VP, I created policy to affect results indirectly, rather than a “hands on” practitioner
I hired someone in my prior role to carry on and advance the work I had started

However, I did miss the high level of interaction within the organization and the measureable results of a “before and after” project. On the other hand, as a VP I directly influenced the lives of an entire organization, although invisibly. That was the real difference between the two roles: Direct and personal engagement versus more indirect policy and strategic contributions.

The morale: Career decisions have implications. Figure out what they are for you.

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