As a server administrator, you invested in knowledge associated with configuring operating systems to perform optimally and be able to interrogate error logs to diagnose and report problems efficiently. As a software developer, you sought feedback from code reviews and combed forums and blog posts and (depending on when you were in this role) books to improve your code. In your role, you invested in the technical skills that expanded your ability to deliver solutions within your respective discipline.
Being measured on skill-set attainment wasn’t particularly evasive. Your servers were deployed live and they either performed their needed functions in support of applications and end users or they crashed after deployment with a flurry of functional issues reported to the helpdesk. Your code either met the functional requirements and was bug free after being tested or defect reports mounted. There was more direct feedback as to what skill-sets you have mastered and what areas of your respective discipline needed more investment.
Even communicating to your direct manager in these technical roles provided more instant feedback as to your ability to successfully articulate problems, issues and recommendations for improvements due to the frequent interactions between yourself and your manager. And from your manager’s perspective, they were tasked with delivering a service and needed you to execute tasks to meet commitments.
But what about communicating to senior management?
In most cases, you are not directly interacting with senior management on a daily or even frequent enough basis to build implicit trust. You can rarely walk blindly into a budget meeting with senior management and say:
“We need to upgrade all the servers to RHEL 6. In order to do that we will need to buy ten new servers at X dollars each for a total of Y dollars now and we will need two more people to build and swap in all those servers. Of course, we’ll need all the applications to test after each server is re-built. And …”
with senior management responding with:
“Sure Bob, let me get out the checkbook …”
It is almost painful to observe a solid, technical individual attempt to explain a technology need to senior management who hasn’t determined how to effectively communicate that need in a format that senior management can more readily absorb. Equally troubling is seeing a poorly communicated yet real technical need be decided against by senior management based on a weak presentation. You can almost predict the conversation that will happen some number of months later:
“Bob, how come we have to pay this huge support contract on our servers? How come I didn’t know about this earlier?”
“But Sir, I tried to tell you we needed to upgrade our servers before …” This conversation becomes more awkward with each subsequent exchange.
No matter how technically proficient you are in your respective discipline, not investing in effective communication skills will limit your over-all effectiveness in your organization.
So, what steps can one take to make this investment in their communication skills? For one who has focused on learning technology, the shift of focus to learning effective communication skills may seem elusive at first. Thus, consider spinning up a thread in your brain that breaks this down into a logical exercise.
Look for part 2 of this article to dive into some logical steps.