Talk to the Boss Like a Boss

26 Feb, 2019 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager Column: Adopting “management speak” can a good thing if you want to be heard and valued.

In the prior edition of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, we discussed the concept of prioritizing your CAD management tasks in the same way as your boss would do to maximize your effectiveness in your boss's eyes. Not surprisingly, this prioritization exercise uses communication with your boss to determine what they want, rather than guessing.

In this edition, we'll expand on this effort to communicate better with your boss and give you some tips you can use to maintain a great dialog. Here goes.

Management Communication Style

I've noticed a few things about senior managers and how they communicate with technical staff, such as CAD managers and IT personnel. These observations are crucial to understand if you ever hope to get along with — or become — a senior manager.

David Pereiras/
David Pereiras/

They speak in short action phrases. This means they're in a hurry and they want to get to the point.

They want to know what the problem is first, and they want it distilled to a short, easy-to-understand statement. Albert Einstein famously said, "If you can't explain it simply, then you don't understand it well enough." That is particularly on point here. Managers want to know you understand the problem and can keep the discussion focused.

They want to know the recommended solution. Senior managers don't want to hear a technical person complaining about a technical problem unless they have a technical solution. After all, isn't that why they hired you — to solve problems?

They want to understand just enough to follow the solution. They don't want to get a PhD in CAD management, they just want to know if things are getting fixed.

If you think about your interactions with senior managers, you'll probably agree with these statements. So, the question now becomes, How can you communicate more like a senior manager?

Management Communication Tips

Here then are the communication tips I've used throughout my career that seem to work no matter which technology you manage.

Write short, not long. Write emails and reports in a short, executive summary style, using a "here's the problem and the solution" narrative. This provides all the details management needs in a style they can read quickly. And if something does pop up that requires more discussion, your report serves as a conversation starter, because your boss already knows what the problem is and generally how the discussion will go.

Write a weekly report in diary style. Each week, summarize what you did and what you plan to do next week and send it to your boss at a consistent time. (I find Fridays work well.) This not only tells your boss what you're doing, but it serves as a task diary for you, so you know if you're accomplishing your task list each week. Keep this to one page so your boss will actually read it.

Note: If you do a weekly report, you'll establish a great written record to protect your own interests over time. If anyone ever claims, "You never told me that," you simply produce your weekly report with all the details.

Keep your budget up to date. Whether you do a formal budget or just make recommendations, do not allow yourself to think budgeting is a once-per-year exercise. The fact is you're making decisions every week that likely affect next year's budget, so you should constantly update your budget. Send the latest version to your boss as an attachment to your weekly report any time something substantial changes.

Give great presentations. Whenever you give a talk to a group of managers, make sure you clearly and concisely state your problems/issues and suggest solutions. Your goal is to get your point across efficiently and start a conversation if needed.

Note the common themes in all these tips:

  • State the problem.
  • State the proposed solution.
  • Get a conversation going when needed.
  • Keep it short. When in doubt, make it shorter.

Challenges for CAD Managers

I often share the story of a senior manager telling me, "For a computer guy, you are easy to understand." I still treasure that comment because it confirmed that I really did communicate well. Of course, what she meant was that I was a computer professional who spoke in a way that a business manager could comprehend.

This experience led me to a few core beliefs that profoundly affected my writing and speaking when dealing with senior management. I'll illustrate those here with a few examples.

Speak like a businessperson. Don't say, "The roadway department can't understand annotative scaling so they keep exploding blocks, which makes attributes revert to layer 0 and thus makes our plotting automation employ the wrong linetypes!"

Do say, "The roadway department isn't following established CAD standards, which is costing us 20 man hours per week in rework."

Stress workflow. Don't say, "After Susan creates a rough conceptual model, we have to go through CAD layout, then Susan goes back to doing BIM, which then outputs floors to detailing where they do the process in CAD."

Do say, "Because we have people who aren't trained on our BIM tools, we're wasting a ton of time interchanging files rather than working in a single system."

Show me the money (spent or saved). Don't say, "We're investigating how an alternate licensing model will affect IT support time as we roll out named user verification in cloud-based tools."

Do say, "Our IT department has to deal with new licensing requirements that'll cost our company $50,000 next year, but if we stay with the old tools it won't cost a thing."

Note that everything here uses the universal business language of time and money. Communicate this way and senior management teams will pay attention.

Summing Up

I'll close with a final word of advice: It's not just important to improve your style when communicating with senior management; you also need to work at communicating consistently. Be sure to maintain communication momentum!

If you communicate using my recommendations here, I promise your senior management team will begin to see you as a valuable asset who is helping the company achieve great things. Although senior managers might never understand the deeper technical issues you deal with, they will know you're a communicative, action-oriented manager. Until next time!

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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