In the weeks leading up to WorkSmart 2014, we will be bringing you regular interviews with our WorkSmart speakers. In this week’s post, we interview Edward Laprade, President & CEO of ADNET Technologies. Ed will be speaking on the panel discussion “Selling the Value of IT Within Your Organization.”
You are constantly fielding requests for more resources, and most requests that land on your desk are attached to a price tag. Last week, Tim Weber shared his perspective on this topic; as a business owner, what do you need to know before considering saying “yes”?
If it hasn’t already been explained to me, I start by asking “why.” I don’t really care about the particular technology you have chosen (this switch vs. that switch, for example), I want to know why we need to make the investment in the first place. What’s the business reason? Context is always necessary. Supporting arguments are useful, but not where you should start when broaching the discussion. Even if I already know we really need something, you still need to convince me of why you think we need it. It’s your job to make sure I understand why we’re doing things and that you have done your homework. People don’t usually like being questioned, and there’s a fine line between questioning and implying a lack of trust, but even in my position, I often have to explain the details of why I have arrived at a particular decision.
Also, and this is important for people wearing the IT hat, “it’s really old” does not work. Old is not a reason for us to replace something. The age of something is not why it needs to be replaced; but rather,it’s what goes along with the age (i.e. Windows XP, a piece of hardware, an OS or an application that will no longer be supported). Tell me that, but don’t stop there. Take the Windows XP example: I might tell you “We don’t ever call for support, so I’m not worried that it will no longer be supported. What you really need to tell me is “Yes, but that means that we can’t apply security updates to any machines running Windows XP and they will all be immediately at extreme risk for a malicious security attack.” Ok, now you have my attention. Then there’s the “I’ve got it, I’m technical, you don’t understand this, let me deal with it” argument which is just wrong. Just keep asking why. There has to be a business case and that needs to be clearly explained by the technical folks to the business folks. Don’t assume that management already knows the reasons behind what you want to do. Show me the impact to the business; show me how vulnerable we are.
How do you balance and prioritize requests based on the needs of the organization rather than the needs of departments or individuals?
The organization requires a certain amount of “friction” to balance priorities. In a perfect world, the organization would function perfectly with nothing more and nothing less than what we really need. Ignoring the malicious and dishonest people of the world, most people will naturally gravitate towards “easier, less stressful and more fun”. For this very reason, organizations have checks and balances built in. It’s critical throughout the organization that people challenge “we need that” – if you can’t answer the “why”, then maybe we don’t need it.
I see people struggling with this concept particularly when they are young or just getting started in their field. They haven’t learned to question things, and they tend to trust the “answer” given to them (i.e. maybe by tech support) to the point where they don’t see a need to dig deeper to fully understand the “answer” and the validity of that answer. In other words, they don’t ask “why?” They skip the step of applying critical thought and challenging their own ideas and assumptions as well as those of others, but when they get to me I’m going to challenge everything. I’m like that little kid who questions everything and responds to almost every answer with “why?”
In your opinion, not just as a business owner, but as a mentor of young professionals, how important is the practice of critical thinking for those entering the workforce?
I think it’s extremely important, and a bit of a problem right now. In school you are motivated to move on once you arrive at an answer. Think about all the multiple choice and true/false tests that are given in the educational system. There is no incentive to pause and ask the “why” question because it’s perceived as wasting time. I think the act of taking that time and asking questions until you understand the foundation of the answer is where the learning is. In the real world, no matter what career you enter, you’ll reach a lot of “answers” that ultimately prove to be the wrong ones. It’s necessary to be able to explain why you did something, and you need to be very confident in the logic and the reasoning. If it blows up on you tomorrow, you don’t want to be in the position of having nothing but blaming others to fall back on. You want to at least be able to say you did your homework and made a logical and thoughtful decision.
Do you have any guidance for someone who has done the proper research, presented a sound business case, explained the risk and the worst case scenario and is still getting nowhere in the approval process?
If you’ve really done your homework and the message still isn’t being heard, and you know that the risk is imminent, there may be something larger at play. The person you’re presenting to may actually accept your argument, but, for a variety of reasons, may choose not to tell you why they are not letting you move forward. It could be that the culture of the organization isn’t one of transparency and they choose not to tell you, or it could be they cannot tell you. There are boundaries for both practical and legal reasons as to what information can be disseminated to who and when. Figure out what the real underlying problem is – if that is even possible. If you come to the conclusion that the organization should take the initiative and can more than afford to, then you either need to find a creative way to really get your point across, or you need to move on.
In your experience, has fear been a persuasive motivator?
Fear is not my favorite motivator, and we shouldn’t make all of our decisions out of fear. However, it can be effective and should be your strategy in some scenarios. If your organization is legally bound to adhere to regulations, such as HIPAA, MA 201 CMR or SOX, for example, complying with those regulations is of the utmost importance. Outside of those requirements, the argument comes down to the business value and risk.
What would you like for people to learn from your WorkSmart presentation?
I hope that this discussion will raise awareness for people. Ultimately, that’s the point of our discussion. It’s not about how to get a “yes” to everything you ask for. It’s about recognizing that the requester and the approver might be in very different worlds and doing the right thing for the organization means bridging the knowledge gap between the two so that both sides agree on what is best for the organization.