Talking to business & technical audiences

Introduction

In my professional IT life is have been a developer and an IT Pro. I have worked on specific parts of solutions or owned the entire stack, top to bottom. No matter what the environment is like, the one “truth” is that both the business management and technologist need to trust and respect each other. The solution is always a compromise between the needs, budgets, politics within an environment. This is the context I often talk about. Without context you’re blindly doing “stuff” on a playing field you do not see, let alone understand. No matter how much money, resource, cool tech and superb PM’s you have the result will be suboptimal, often mediocre and always to expensive, taking to long to deliver and even longer to fix. Now, talking to business & technical audiences about IT, requires the right content for the public you talk to.

Talking to business & technical audiences about IT

I have nothing but the greatest respect for good managers and good sales people even as a techie. My problem with them is just due to the fact there’s way too few of them around! That’s a pity as we need them to deliver great results and address needs. It also makes things easier. As a technologist I have talked to C level executives and board of directors to get funding for key projects. Even up to that special occasion where I had to go and defend a major project to get the funding after the IT manager had been thrown out by the board during the previous meeting. That was fun! 1 hour long for the board, convincing them of the value. Normally you don’t spend that long in a board to finally succeed and needing to get on a later flight to a conference due to that. They paid for my flight change actually. When I was having a beer with my fellow MVPs in Vienna late that spring evening when I received a couple of messages from some of our C level execs congratulating me. Times when CxO’s and IT are collaborating and on the same page are the best. You can even overcome the odds at that moment.

Talking to business & technical audiencesImage courtesy of @rawpixel at https://unsplash.com/photos/phDXV_uhx_g

Know your audience

But such heroic moments are seldom. It’s all about preparation, a bit of evangelizing and continuing communications about value. The general consensus is that when communicating with diverse audiences on the subject of IT you must recognize the differences and adapt to them. Good sales people know this. Most other struggle with it. But to get things going we need everyone on board. Technical people care about the why, what and how. Managerial types are more focused on the what, the why and the budget. When both have some context and understanding about each other’s needs that helps tremendously in terms of effectiveness. This is because you can the focus on telling each what they need and nothing more.

There are prerequisites

This comes with a warning however. Communication between C levels, middle management, technical architects, analysts and implementing technologist must be functional. They should understand the context and the dependencies and you have to make sure those are dealt with and are OK. If not, giving them only the information they need isn’t going to work. For that to happens the right people at the right place must have the capabilities, budget and mandate to achieve this. Trust is a factor in all this. When that is the case, the real challenge, which is making sure the communication lines are open and are effective and efficient, is normally taken care of. That makes it possible to talk constructively with all parties.

In many cases where organizations struggle with IT this is often a huge challenge. If the quality of the roles isn’t up to the level required talking to business & technical audiences is actually more a key problem.

Yahoo’s “Physically Together” is Management Failure

I’m awaiting boarding at SEATAC and browsing the news. I suggest you read “Physically Together”: Here’s the Internal Yahoo No-Work-From-Home Memo for Remote Workers and Maybe More and consider the quote below.

“… Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home  …”

If I was working for Yahoo I’d be jumping the ship. That mentality just doesn’t compute. If anything I have seen the working conditions become worse and worse in offices over the past decade. All the new open/flex work office plans with the continuous interrupts, office chit chat & gossip, noise and countless never ending meetings (I guess partially to escape the lousy desk experience) are probably very good for the bottom line but all the rest of it seems to be working out a lot less well.

Granted, part of that is because of bad execution. It works if you can and will adopt that culture. But more often than not they just transplant the old ways into the new office environment with disastrous results. But the savings are there; so they don’t really mind. Just like they don’t mind outsourcing or consultants. Those don’t come into the office either but they do help reduce head count and CAPEX, whatever helps the Excel sheet look better. Speed and quality can often suffer as well in these cases but then the response is to have better governance and processes, not to drag them all into the landscape office meadow.

And as far as speed and quality … I’ll be crystal clear, I’m not buying that for one second. If I had not been responding to alerts (we have no on call) on weekends the company would no longer exist. It would have lost it’s entire infrastructure a couple of times with little or no hope of recovery. If they force me to be at the office between 08:30 and 17:30 every day they would not get that commitment and I would work a lot less hours. The same goes for my team. We expect a lot and we give a lot. Checks and balances. How are you supposed to build a top notch team on mediocre management practices is beyond me. We put in the effort because that’s what we give back to our employers in return for a lot of flexibility and freedom on how we organize ourselves and the team.

Some middle management that wants hot bodies in the seats to respond to every question they have is very worrying to me and those people have no sense of real priorities. Perhaps of self importance, yes, but not priorities Look organize yourself any way you need to to deliver what ever it is but the above quote executed across the board is sad in it’s simplification and denial of realities.

But go ahead. Sacrifice your agility and flexibility to be able to keep operations going during snow storms, flu pandemics and go on wasting time and resources commuting during peak traffic hours. The trick to making all of this work is to make it part of the normal way of working. The ratio of type of flex and telework might change during such times but that’s it. Any organization who cannot see this, act on it and leverage the new possibilities technology offers us is a victim of management failure. These across the board decisions are a clear sign of that and make me list Yahoo on the “Unsuitable Employers” list. Their speed and quality may very well suffer from this decision.

Are you perhaps saying your employees are goofing of at home and are under performing? Well if physical presence is the only way to make sure they are doing a good job you’re really in trouble. You have many other and more serious problems I think and good luck to you if you think pulling then back into the office will fix this. Probably this is really the issue. They’ve lost insight in who does what and why. End states are not defined, lack of accountability, … or otherwise put: management failure.

Or are you a serious professional who can’t stand the idea of your senior engineer sitting in his pajamas writing code or building a cluster at 10:00 or 22:00 hours? You think he needs to be in khakis and shirt? If it’s the pajama image you could consider hiring super models as engineers, the idea will become a lot more pleasant,  I guarantee it Winking smile. Or are you worried about the odd working hours and the impact on the well being of your employees? Changes are they’ll do that anyway or even more when having to be in the office. They can’t get the real work done when having to sit in that sub optimal cube all day and dealing with all the senseless interrupts.

What if people don’t flee you because of this policy but just zone out. They show up for whatever mandatory time they need to. When shuffled like cattle into their cubicles and or pastures (open landscape offices) they’ll put on their noise cancellation headsets, run of to meetings (anything to escape the chaos and interrupt hell the modern office environment has become. Their talent, engagement, motivation and zeal will go to what they love to do and those organizations will end up as mediocre players putting in the bear minimum. Well played. Look, today we’re expected to be able to work from anywhere at any time and indeed technology has enabled this for a significant amount of people. A lot of us do that and we’re very flexible about it as we commit to our jobs and working lives in ever more flexible ways. Now on top of that they expect us to show up on the clock and proof attendance in a rather than creating a win-win situation?

On top of that they do this in a time where managers claim that talent will flee companies that do not allow BYOD or other consumer IT.  Really, but having old school office organizations wont? Flexibility works both ways. Employees can be very efficient and committed. But any manager looking to extract every last ounce of profit or plays power games because they can’t deal with end state management will loose more then they will ever gain. A BYOD device policy cannot attract and retain the best of the best. Trust me, those fine employees will figure out very fast that they’ll choose flex time, telecommuting, better pay and extra paid holidays over that stupid iPad or iPhone. Consumerization of ICT means they don’t need your technology and devices. They’ll buy their own and use it for their own advancement and interest and you’ll be left in your holding the short end of the stick. You shouldn’t care that your  employees make you money while stepping on a cross trainer at home or even from their bath tub.

I really don’t buy into the fact that this is all complicating the creation of products or the delivery of services. It also doesn’t ruin any long term supportability. People will go where they think they are best off.  So what is this move? A need to reduce head count and trying to achieve this by people calling it quit voluntarily? So basically you’re even unable to fix performance issues with your feedback/planning and evaluation system? Oh boy. So what if your best quit and the worst show up at the office? Yahoo’s in a pretty bad state it seems.

Is it a power play and about limiting options for people to see how obedient they are? If all the “our employees are our biggest and most important resource” is true some things would be really different. For one your employees would tell you to stop considering and treating them a resource to move around at will. After all this is not an national crisis and this is not the military at war. In a real war for talent employees would interview you whether to see if you’re even worth working for. Most companies don’t like the power to shift to the employees to far. They have seen this for short periods of time in certain professions and they still haven’t recovered from that shock to their system. They’d rather have less of it, not more. It’s all way to complicated for them to handle and manage. It also costs them more.