By Anthony Sutcliffe – Freelance IT Consultant
*Please note: The characters mentioned in this article are fictitious, but are based on real life personal examples.
Back in August, the UK TechNet team approached me to write a ‘Different Strokes for Different Folks’ article, by drawing upon personal experience I highlighted some of the different working styles an IT professional may encounter from the Marketing department. However, in this article I want to focus on interactions I’ve made with senior managers in the past and share some of my insight and best practise.
During my IT career, I’ve worked for a number of different companies. In every case, the senior managers were people with very different attitudes and ways of working; and it also has to be said, very different understandings of technology. It could often be difficult working with these people; trying to get them to understand topics that they didn’t understand or care about.
‘The quick-fix with minimal cost’ type managers
In one particular case, the business was family owned; it had been started by Ron (*) and after 3 decades, it was a multi-million pound operation being run by his sons, Gareth and Richard. These two could best be described as “mercurial”; they had immense energy, worked long hours and took a close personal interest in most aspects of the daily operations within the sales and manufacturing sides of the business. However, they were not quite so keen on some of the other, more mundane aspects.
It was not uncommon for the two of them, to suddenly ask me to implement or change something, often without any obvious lead up to the request. In some cases, it seemed that this occurred after they had spoken to someone else, or seen something that they had read in the trade press. Often, the request would not necessarily be unreasonable, but might not quite fit in with the overall strategy; in other cases, it might be completely unachievable given the resources available or technology already in place. More than a few times, one of the brothers might make a request that was then changed by the other.
I found that it was better not to try to explain the technology to them at the time; but simply to say that it was a good idea, indicate that I would “look into it” and get back to them. A few days later, I would present them with a brief indication of what was required; but then I’d highlight the cost of the work. On most occasions, they would look at this, but then decide that the cost was too high. Occasionally, they would ask why I couldn’t do it myself; I’d then say I’d be happy to, but needed additional training and development to do it correctly. Again, once the cost was clear to them, the plans were usually shelved.
‘The Chalk and Cheese’ type managers
This was very different approach to the one that I used with my next employer. The two main directors were rather different; Charles was quiet, methodical and had the technical background that allowed him to understand more practical issues. Keith however was less concerned about the technical side of things; and he just wanted to see results.
Although they were both very accessible, they were much less likely to just drop in on me during the day. I found that it was necessary to keep them informed of what was happening; and to do this, I produced a monthly report that I gave to them in time for the directors’ meeting. This highlighted what had been planned and how far the work had progressed, but also gave information on those jobs planned for the next month. I tried to keep the technical information to a minimum; they would always ask if they needed more information.
However, Charles wanted to be seen to be getting involved in the technical issues, even when he didn’t understand them; sometimes he would ask for details in meetings even when it was not entirely necessary. I learned to make sure that I had done my homework in advance to ensure that I had the right information at my fingertips. Keith however was very keen to know what the end results would be; and he could be disinterested in anything that didn’t directly go towards increasing sales; and he quickly became bored if the meetings lasted more than thirty minutes. When working with Keith, I kept information to a minimum and expected meetings to be no more than 5 to 10 minutes; with Charles, I had to be prepared for meetings that were much longer.
Now make no mistake, I had tremendous respect for all of these individuals; they were very hard working and ran highly successful businesses. But their lack of actual technical information made talking to them difficult at times. The problem was that although the technology was very important to the delivery of the success, they couldn’t always see that. This is why it was necessary for me to be able to change the way that I communicated with them, so that I could put my points forward in a way that would focus on the key issues that were their individual concerns.
How do you deal with a Senior Manager?
When you are next working with business leaders, try looking at things from their perspective. Ask yourself what are the key issues that they are dealing with and what effect do they have on the company. These may often be financial matters, but sometimes can relate to staff and how they do their work; or sometimes, how they produce their product or service and deliver it to the customer.
Then, when you are thinking about the latest technology, try to ignore the aspects that you find of most interest and think about from the point of view of the specific business manager. Ask yourself the questions that you think he or she would ask, highlighting the benefits to the areas of the business that are the focus of their interest.
Once you’ve done that, try to actually talk to the individual about those items you’ve considered and see if they respond in the way that you imagined. If they do, then you have found the right way to explain things to them; if not, then you should look at where you went wrong with your assumptions.
The Golden Rule
Don’t forget the Golden Rule; the man with the Gold makes the Rules! You may disagree with the senior managers, but they are the ones that control everything, so it is in your interests to make sure that they listen to you and take what you say seriously. If you can get them to trust you and your decisions, then this will make your work-life much more satisfactory.
Have you had similar experiences with a senior manager, perhaps something completely different? Regardless, We’d love to hear from you. Reach out to us in the comments section below, or via @TechNetUK