Saturday, February 25, 2012

Learn How To Speak In A Decision-Maker's Language

A few weeks ago, the university I work for brought in consultants to help fix issues with our web site. Their job involves creating a super committee, which consists of high-level decision makers, and facilitating the development of new or revised policies, standards, and guidelines.

While we're talking about improving on our web infrastructure, the problem is not really technical. It's more about how we govern ourselves and communicate with various stakeholders.

For years, I have tried to share with my boss potential challenges and opportunities surrounding the web. Sometimes I'm successful, other times I'm not. The real issue comes when I try to communicate those same messages to the Chief Information Officer. Why is it so hard? It wasn't until the consultants came that it became crystal clear.

The problem, as I understand it now, is that I wasn't using facts. Instead, we would convey information based on experiences, opinions, and anecdotal evidence. While that's great for a discussion with my team, it wasn't working with decision makers.

Having seen the light, I've been trying to apply this new lesson throughout my life. The question I now ask is this, "What do the numbers say?" "What are the facts?" To put it another way, "You cannot manage what you cannot measure." Therefore, let's try to measure everything.

Tools of the Trade

Based upon my limited time with the consultants, the following tools seem to be used heavily within their arsenal:

Reconnaissance
One of the first things I noticed the consultants do upon arriving on campus is to organize conversations with a variety of stakeholders. In a relaxed environment, they asked people questions. As one of the consultants once said, "It's all information." Everything that is uncovered during a conversation is information that could potentially help them discover holes in the Matrix.

Survey
After the consultants finished their conversations across campus, they put together a list of questions using information gathered during the reconnaissance mission. From a business point of view, this is a key resource to confirm problems or identify new opportunities.

Inventory Database
After the discussions and survey results, it's time to store that data somewhere. The consultants I'm working with call it an Inventory Database, but it's really just an Excel file. The database is where you can load tons of information and compare it to like data. How well is Department A doing when compared to Department B? With a quick scan, that question has an easy answer. Another advantage of the inventory database is that missing information is quick to spot.

Final Thought

Even though we're only a few weeks into our project, I'm learning a lot from the consultants. Right now, it's about gathering information, communicating our findings to the decision-makers, and allowing them to translate the message. As a manager, that seems to be a rather easy job to maintain going forward. Although, I'm interested in finding out where we can go from here.

In the coming weeks and months, I'll keep you abreast of any new lessons that I find interesting. In the meanwhile, let's talk about how you communicate with executives. Let's chat in the comment section below.

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Damond L. Nollan, M.B.A.

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