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Tips for speaking like a business strategist

Tracy Mayor | Feb. 11, 2014
As an IT pro, you know you need to think strategically, but can you speak strategically, too? CIOs share advice on how to catch the ear of senior management.

Talk Strategy With Senior Stakeholders
All of your hard-learned strategic vision won't count for anything if you can't communicate it effectively to the right people, and that can be a challenge for IT folks.

"Anyone in a tech field probably hasn't spent as much time on public speaking as someone in marketing," says N2growth's Baldoni. "But the higher you go, the more comfortable you need to be speaking on your feet and speaking in public." (For some of Baldoni's specific tips, see "How to Speak With Presence," below.)

Just who are the "right people"? Beesley advises casting a wide net. "You need to have networks of people within the business who understand you, and whom you understand," he says. This kind of relationship-building should be ongoing, not a last-minute effort you engage in only when you're in need of support. "If you take the time beforehand to build up trust, to have lots of ongoing conversations, then when you come along with bigger projects, it will be easier to build a powerful business case," he says.

Tom Van Winkle, director of information security at Alliance Data's Retail Services division in Columbus, Ohio, agrees that it's critical for IT people to socialize their ideas with senior decision-makers — not simply their immediate managers, but up the chain of command and throughout the organization. "You need to take personal initiative to engage in relationship-building," he says.

Van Winkle speaks from experience. He started out at Alliance working in the internal audit department, where he learned to look at all aspects of the business -— including IT — with a critical eye. So when he transitioned to business security, he came with ideas for how the department could be re-engineered to better serve the needs of the company.

Though his immediate manager was only "lukewarm," Van Winkle talked up his ideas with senior managers whenever possible — through mentor relationships, by volunteering to work on special projects where key stakeholders were involved, and in informal conversations he set up one-on-one.

The end result: Van Winkle is now in the manager's seat and his plan for realigning IT is well underway.

Talk Strategy With Your IT Staff
Brilliant as you are, you're only one person. To truly deliver strategic value to the organization, the entire IT staff needs to be energized in that direction.

"In order to create a vision, the staff needs to be part of the process," says Van Winkle. "I try to engage my managers in the planning process, which helps get people out of firefighting mode and take a step back to think strategically." Specifically, Van Winkle found that elucidating a two- or three-year strategic plan that addresses resources, personnel and tools helped staffers to shift their mindsets.

 

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