Team Building & Staffing

6 Tips: How To Speak C-Suite

To get better results in budget and project negotiations and make career path progress, IT pros must learn to speak less tech and more "boss."
A clearer understanding of the business and of how the executive team is assessed -- along with an open, ongoing dialogue -- will also foster far more options for expressing return on investment (ROI) proofs or otherwise making business cases for IT investments. There's a writing 101 lesson that applies here: "Show, don't tell." With solid grounding in your company's goals and metrics, you paint the ROI picture and let the higher-ups connect the dots themselves. Typically, Dean said, that comes from showing a productivity or efficiency gain tied to corporate objectives -- or risks that threaten achieving those objectives.

Another example from inside Spiceworks: The firm's CTO had noticed that the Spiceworks website was averaging about six seconds per page refresh; he thought he could get it down to two seconds with the appropriate resources. While he couldn't explicitly prove ROI for the initiative, the CTO and CFO discussed the project in terms of how it could improve the company's main revenue stream: Advertising.

"It was very logical for me to quickly get that if the refresh rate can be cut down by two-thirds, I'm going to generate more page views, keep people within my environment longer, be able to provide them more useful information faster, [and] that's going to help my overall traffic a bunch," Dean said. "That was another way of expressing ROI in a business measurement that I could relate to."

Consider the terms most applicable to your business -- labor hours, order processing times, compliance, risk and so forth -- and communicate IT strategy and requests accordingly.

6. Think Like An Owner

Beyond budgets and project approvals, speaking "boss" can help elevate IT's overall stature within an organization -- and also be a boon for IT pros that aspire to one day become the boss. "You've got to think like an owner," Dean said. Again, that means you need to know more than your network or other IT responsibilities -- see the company's big picture. If you feel you're too far down the chain of command to be having lunch with the C-suite, at least start with your higher-ups within IT. Find out if they're talking to nontechnical management. (If they're not, suggest they start.) Dean believes most executives will welcome the input.

"[If I was a CTO], I would still want to know from the guy running the network what he sees, because there are plenty of things he sees that the CTO doesn't see," Dean said. While Dean can't imagine writing a budget without IT input, the 64% poll figure above shows it does happen -- frequently, even. Dean half-joked that his next webinar will be for CFOs and other execs on why they shouldn't create budgets without soliciting IT's input. "You don't know what you don't know," Dean said.

It comes back to starting that conversation in terms the bosses can understand. Dean acknowledged that this can be intimidating. "It absolutely is," Dean said. It may be easier to start the discussion in the form of a question, or in the form of a helping hand: "How can IT act as a catalyst for achieving our corporate goals?" or "Hey, I want to better understand our objectives and metrics so I can ensure we don't have any unforeseen technology risks that might hinder success." Dean believes most executives will embrace this type of dialogue -- again, provided it's in a language they can understand.

"All but the most curmudgeonly managers will really welcome when someone comes to them just wanting to be a part of the aggregate solution," Dean said. "That's generally pretty well-received."