Speaking with managers.

Early in my career as an IT professional, I realized some things...

WOW...  management speaks a language that I do not understand and, as much I thought I controlled the IT environment for my enterprise...  Management really controlled the IT environment.

So, I set out to figure out a way to address those things.

Management controls the money.  Money is generated by the business units. And, business units usually see IT as a necessary evil. Hence the language I did not understand.

I was (and still am) excited about the latest and greatest. I wanted to roll out new technologies because I thought it would help the business and also maybe because I thought it would be fun. But getting management to give me the budget and the cycles to accomplish that was excruciatingly painful. Why?? We were not speaking the same language “The business makes money, not IT” language.

As an example, I remember getting excited about a technology to train users about the new version of Office through self-learning online module. I decided to pitch it to my management. So, I get ready, make a slide deck, write a document with the description of the technology, how we can implement it the tracking module, etc....

Friday comes I manage to get 20 minutes on the agenda of the CIO's monthly meeting. I walk in, and start the pitch. The following is what my management heard:

"Hello, I wanted to present a project to you regarding deploying an online training technology that uses blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah  ......"

The CIO stops me....  and asks

"How much will it cost?"

"$65,000.00 for a complete site license" I replied.

He paused, and ended the conversation with "get out!”

The realization that we're not speaking the same language, in fact addresses both issues I mentioned above. Let me explain… If I could figure out a way to speak the same language as the management, I could then drive my points and agendas, therefore exercising more influence over the IT management decisions and increase my “control”. Simple, right?

Well, not simple, but achievable. Think of it this way. Don’t lead in the conversation with the technology. Start by talking to management and the business units to identify the pain point, define the problem and the impact. And make sure to tie-in the money impact. Then through collaboration with management and the business units identify what the solution would look like. YOU”RE STILL NOT TALKING ABOUT TECHNOLOGY…. You’re setting the vision of what the solution would look like, what the end state would be and how it would benefit the business units by either saving money, or avoid losing money.

Once management and the BU have agreed that the end state is desirable and beneficial to the bottom line, and then you can bring up a product that will fill the need, meet the requirements. And in my experience, the budgeting and resource allocation discussions become much much simpler.

Let me go back to the previous example, this is the way it should have played out.

"Hello, I realized that a quarter of our 800 users are going out to training facilities to get training once a year.  The average cost of those classes is around $1,500. Not counting the productivity loss by having someone out of the office for a week. That really means that we are spending approximately $365 per user for training

What if we could lower that cost below $100 and keep the employees in the office where they can be reached.  Would you agree that this is a desirable?"

To that he would have said "YES!"

"Great! it so happens that I have been researching this and I found a solution that will meet our requirements to lower the training budget, and allow us to train not a quarter, but all our employees for approximately 80$"

He would have certainly replied

"Where do I sign?"

Not only it's a completely different conversation.... it's also a completely different mindset.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not an easy thing to achieve. It’s a mindset shift that needs to occur and it takes time to train your brain to think in those terms. There are a few articles and books that you should read to gain a greater understanding of how management thinks about IT. I suggest you get your hands on at least 2 of them that I have found to be a great way to clarify that kind of thinking.

The first is an article that I believe we should all, as IT Pros, be aware of and understand. It really put things into perspective. “IT doesn’t matter” by Nicholas G. Carr published in the Harvard Business Review in June 2003.

The second is “In Search of Business Value: Ensuring a Return on Your Technology Investment” by Robert L. McDowell, William L. Simon, and Jeff Raikes (Jan 2005).

So, hopefully this can help you speak the management language and empower you to be an influencer and a trusted business contributor in your own enterprise.  This is the tip of the iceberg...  I'm still learning and striving to find strategies to talk to different audiences. It never ends, people change and the way you connect with will change as well. All we can do is to adapt.

If you have thoughts or comment on this post, please let me know. We can only learn and grow by keeping an opened mind.


Comments (8)

  1. Philip Elder says:

    Excellent post.

    When dealing with small business owners, then one needs to get into their business environment and study it.

    Getting to know the way the business operates, how its employees work, and how the business interacts with their suppliers and clients will give us the understanding we will need to create a technology vision for the company, users, and infrastructure.

    When speaking with the business owner, analogies incorporating the business and its processes, along with in-person demonstrations of the SBS, Vista, and Office product features that will enhance the basic operations of the business go a long way to closing the deal and establishing a long term business relationship.

    A business owner will know that we have invested a lot of time and effort to get to know their specific business by the way things flow in the above meeting.

    They will also know that we have the knowledge and experience it takes to make sure they get the right products and services for their business infrastructure and people resource needs.


  2. ye110wbeard says:

    I agree.  The nerd/geek/tech in me bursts out to say "It’s COOOOOOOL!" but when you’re talking to the customer you have to see everything from their point of view to have any success.

    For us Small Business guys its a way of life I think (any other thoughts?).    So although typically I might not have to say "$10,000,000 for the site license" the reaction by a customer who may not want to spend money is equally as powerful.

    I find in most cases it’s a matter of "Get to the point, don’t fluff it up to me, 30 seconds or less simple story."

    If you can understand on some level what bothers them or better yet what DRIVES them, the work can happen.

    And sometimes the customer (deep in their heart) can be just as much as a techno nerd…. 🙂  



  3. Daniel Nerenberg says:

    This is a great post Pierre. It really does strike home. As ITpros the more we know our business, and what drives its success, the more success we will have in matching great IT technology to the business!

  4. Ed Braiter says:

    I’ve worked for large places and small places and it comes down to this (usually):

    * Large places require that you show how it can save the company money. Most reasonable ideas will be passed.

    * Small companies (usually privately owned) definitely have to show how it’s cheap and save the company in the short run as well as the long run. Belts are usually tighter. So unless it’s a sure winner when there is a lot of money at stake, the approval is unlikely.

  5. ye110wbeard says:

    Actually it does depend on the small Business.   If the owner has the credit to pull it off, some of them are "long term" guys and can think it in terms of "Will it keep my assistants from yelling so I can get some peace and quiet and do MY work?"

    Sometimes, depending on the Small Business that approach works.   I guess the trick is "Common Ground".  (Ooops did I remember that from the Shaunessy Howell sessions?  Thanks Microsoft … 🙂 )

  6. Marc-Andre says:

    je veux canceller mon compte msn comment je fais

  7. Ian McLeod, I.S.P. says:

    Great message for Leadership Training of all IT Staff. To add to this, you may not always get that time in a formal meeting setting, so you need to also have an ‘elevator’ version of your sales pitch ready. That way when you run into senior executives in the hall, coffee shop, or yes, the elevator, you are ready with that 30 second pitch. Have a great answer for their ‘How is it going’ or ‘What are you working on these days’.

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