In our last blog, we looked at why organizations may fail to give IT a voice around the table. This month, we explore what is required to be gain greater input in your organization’s decision-making. It starts with improving communications with colleagues outside your division.
Fortunately, IT experts have what it takes to be natural, even exceptional, communicators. This may appear counter-intuitive for a specialty not often thought of as people-oriented. However, IT specialists do typically possess the three essential qualities needed to be an influencer.
Scott Edinger, a communication expert who writes for The Harvard Business Review, identifies the criteria as the following:
Credibility. People need to be assured that you possess the technical expertise to be a valid, and valuable, contributor to the discussion.
There’s little doubt that IT professionals have expertise. At BTR, we know first-hand that IT professionals need top-notch, up-to-date skills to be offered a position, and retain it.
Emotional connection: Your audience must feel that your proposal matters to them – professionally or personally.
IT professionals almost always focus on ways to improve the work / life experience of those who interact with technology. They are, after all, problem-solvers in the business of devising solutions to help an organization operate more efficiently, competitively, and smarter.
Logic: Edinger writes: “All the authority and empathy in the world won’t help you if people don’t understand your basic idea or how you came to your conclusions. Make a clear argument that people can follow and use data and analysis to back up your points.”
Ironically, this criterion may present the biggest challenge for IT specialists, even though logic is fundamental to their skill set. Many in the field tell us they find it difficult to explain their thinking and their data in a way that others who are not versed in IT can easily understand.
With that in mind, here are three top strategies used by IT professionals who have hit their stride as influencers.
Strip your speech of all jargon and acronyms when communicating with colleagues from other divisions.
It is easy to assume that your audience will understand language that has been standard techno-speak for years. But they may not, even though they may not admit it.
Studies show people are more comfortable faking understanding than confessing ignorance. Research by Timothy Gallwey, a best-selling author on improving communications, shows that not even a group of specialized physicians would admit –in front of peers – to being unfamiliar with a term which they couldn’t have known as Gallwey had invented it the spot. Gallwey concludes when people can’t understand what you are saying, they prefer not to invite you to the table.
Explain your thinking by telling a story
Steve Jobs excelled at presenting complex ideas as a compelling easy-to- understand story –complete with a villain and a hero. The most persuasive CIOs emulate his technique today. Jobs always introduced the “villain” first– the problem and why it is a headache. Next, he presented the “conquering hero” – the solution and how it would make life better. He was also known to put time and effort into translating his technical concepts and terms into simple English and crystal clear images for those without IT backgrounds.
Think about your audience
Jim Stikeleather, the executive strategist for Dell Services, advises IT specialists to customize their information to what their colleagues care to know, and don’t care to know. He suggests thinking about your audience in terms of the following categories.
Novice: New to the subject but doesn’t want oversimplification.
Generalist: Just needs a big picture understanding, no details please.
Managerial: Requires actionable understanding of your idea, and the inter-relationships it involves.
(IT) Expert: Wants to hear about exploration and discovery in detail.
Executive: Only has time for the significance and conclusion of weighted probabilities.
Finally, in my own experience consulting with clients, I find it revealing to listen closely to the quantity and types of questions asked. The more questions asked, and the more detailed these are, show that listeners are engaged and interested. Few questions may suggest that you lost your audience somewhere along the way. In that case, it’s a good idea to recap your key points, this time in their language and according to their interests.
The bottom line: It’s hard to establish yourself as a thought leader if nobody can grasp your thinking. Next month, more strategies for building IT influence within and between business units.
Bagg Technology Resources – “Where Experience Delivers”
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Joanne is the General Manager for Bagg Technology Resources bringing over 20 years of industry experience in Project and Solutions Resourcing, Solutions offshore and near-shore for application development and data warehouse project delivery, Information Technology, Engineering, Management, Contract/Full Time Resourcing.
Joanne’s goal is to deliver distinct flexible resource solutions to meet and exceed the requirements of her clients and candidates by understanding their goals and challenges, by leveraging technology and by respecting the intrinsic value of our each person she comes in contact with.
Joanne believes that the relationships developed in resourcing are lasting and works with both resources and clients on long term plans and goals. This consultative approach has enabled her to be proactive in forecasting clients’ requirements and assisting resources with their career direction. To enhance her ability to understand the requirements of her clients, Joanne has enhanced her post-secondary education with Information Technology courses at Ryerson University.