7 Tips that Get Management to Listen
Does this sound familiar? You have a great idea that will revolutionize the world (well, at least your part of it). It uses the latest Web 2.5 paradigm, Cleanax API 7.6, and takes advantage of all the bells and whistles on the latest Pithium Excelon 2K9-7 processor. What's not to like in such a project? To your surprise, when you propose your idea, it gets rejected.
Yet, at the same time, some other, lesser talent comes up with a zany, harebrained idea that you feel is completely useless and stupid. Plus, it's so pre-Web 1.0, it's not funny. To your dismay, it is enthusiastically endorsed by management. And you're stuck with the implementation.
If this situation strikes a chord, rest assured, the problem is not with the zany idea, or your boss, it's with you! The ideas and projects that get implemented are not necessarily the best ones. The brightest and most talented are not always the ones that get promoted. In both cases, the one with the best packaging is the one that will garner attention.
Think of it this way: there is a reason companies spend so much money on packaging their products. All the evidence you need can be found in the aisles of cosmetic products in any drugstore or pharmacy. Take a look at the vast array of fancy packages for what, in fact, are very similar products. The explanation for this is simple: people have a tendency to buy what looks best, especially if they need to choose between very similar products.
Management is no different. In order to get your ideas heard, or to be next in line for a promotion, you need to think of the packaging not just the content. Yes, the UI is important. Here are seven things to think about the next time you need to present an idea to management, and you want to make sure that it is heard:
Show Your Expertise: This is often the first trap. When geeks think about expertise, they usually think in terms of technical expertiselanguages, programs, protocols, etc. However, for the most part, management is uninterested in your technical expertise. Managers and executives want to see that you understand the business, the strategy, and the direction of the company. If they see that you understand that and have taken into account business imperatives, they will be more inclined to listen to you.
Why? Because it will be clear that they do not need to educate you on what is important to help the company thrive.
Adapt Your Language: Speak in business terms, not in geek terms. Managers and
executives don't think in terms of XML, C#, SOAP, or other techno-speak. They understand ROI, time-to-market, and profit margins. And whether you like it or not, suit-speak has more value to the company than geek-speak. Speak the language that is important to management. Keep the bits and bytes for your colleagues.
Be Flexible: Your bright idea may not be exactly what management is looking for. Be prepared to modify your original plans if you feel that your idea can really be helpful. You've all heard the story of
Crave Feedback: If you cringe at the thought of receiving feedback, reframe your thinking. Feedback is not a tool to put you down or to humiliate you. It is designed to help you improve what you do. So if your idea or suggestion is not accepted by your superiors, instead of sulking and getting upset about it ask for feedback. Not just any feedback: request specific feedback on why the idea was rejected, and what needs to change in order for it to be accepted.
Do it Quickly: Your log is not the only one on the fire. Explain yourself quickly and succinctly. If you're given a time limit to explain yourself, respect it. Rest assured that if your idea is compelling enough, you will be given ample opportunity to explain it further.
Emotion Makes it Happen: Logic makes people think, emotion makes them act. Don't fall into the trap of explaining your idea only in logical terms. To get buy-in and commitment from management, you must get them emotionally involved in your vision. To elicit that emotional reaction, focus on their needs, not yours. Make it important for them to listen and implement your idea. How? By appealing to their self interest: show them how the idea benefits them, and the company by the same token.
Be Prepared to Let it Go: it's possible that your idea will be championed and taken over by someone else, who then gets all the credit. Get over it. If you are really passionate about your idea, be happy that it has been considered and that it is being implemented. Don't ruin your experience by getting upset that you did not get all the credit. If your boss is a good leader, he or she will let it be known that it was your idea. And yes, I am aware that many bosses are not good leaders. Nevertheless, that should not affect how you feel about yourself and about your contribution. Just make sure that during your next performance review, it is duly noted in your file that your input contributed to the implementation of this idea.
In his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, at #5 Stephen Covey lists what I consider to be the best communication advice you can find: seek first to understand and then to be understood.
In IT, we often take the approach that if the other people do not understand the technical aspects of what we do, they are not worthy. However, the geeks that are most valued by a business are not those who know the most, but the ones who can explain what they know best. So when you want to present your idea to management, boldly go forth and don your virtual suit. You can always take it off as you leave the meeting room.
Laurent Duperval is the president of Duperval Consulting which helps individuals and companies improve people-focused communication processes. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 514-902-0186.