Network engineers and other IT pros are problem-solvers and optimizers. If you are in this line of work, you likely have ideas to uplevel your stack to become more efficient and help your network run better.
For many, these ideas might include emerging technology, such as network automation, that will require time, effort, and money to implement. And this means you will need buy-in from business executives to realize your ideas.
As company leaders often focus on maintaining smooth business operations and increasing the bottom line, network upgrades may not be a top priority. You’ll need to find a way to align your ideas to business goals when making a case for changes. This can be a challenging process, but with persistence and strong communication skills, you can become a strong advocate for the stack improvements you believe are needed.
[ Also read Digital transformation: 4 tips to keep it human-centered. ]
Let’s look at the best way to approach company leaders so that you can create a compelling argument for new technology and build excitement around the transformative potential of your ideas.
1. Combine storytelling with engineering know-how
Becoming a good storyteller is critical for conveying your ideas with urgency. For business leaders who have their hands full running a company, a functional network may not be top of mind. Like a building’s plumbing, it can be hard to see the need to change something that already works. But you know improvements will have real value.
The key to storytelling in business settings is helping your audience understand why a change matters by emphasizing benefits instead of features. Network engineers may immediately grasp why a feature matters, but many on the business side don’t understand how specific capabilities translate into benefits.
For example, you might see why making a process five percent faster is a huge deal, but you shouldn’t expect your audience to understand it the same way. You must identify and emphasize benefits like significant cost reductions, improved reliability, or raised morale.
If you’re unsure which benefits to focus on, start by highlighting and explaining the potential for improved efficiency. It’s usually relatively easy to calculate and simple to frame regarding benefits to the company’s bottom line.
For example, if your network team can be more efficient with time-consuming but intellectually unchallenging processes, you can direct the team to instead work on more demanding or failure-prone tasks. As a result, those challenging tasks are more likely to get done, which makes the network more reliable. In some cases, more capacity for work may also allow network engineers to work on more innovative projects, which could even translate into revenue-generating opportunities.
2. Know the leaders you're talking to and build interdepartmental support
When making a case for new technology, keep your audience in mind. Tailoring your arguments to their role and goals will put you in a much better position to capture their attention and generate enthusiasm.
Sometimes this will require you to shift away from strict business goals. If you need to speak with the chief revenue officer and are trying to justify an additional $100,000 for your tech stack, for example, you will need to focus on the bottom line and the financial benefit your proposal could provide. On the other hand, the head of engineering might not be interested in the finances and would rather discuss how engineers can better avoid burnout or otherwise become easier to manage.
When advocating for stack improvements, working with a partner helps substantially. It’s good to have a boss or teammate help, but even better to find a leader on a different team or even in another department. If multiple departments have team members who champion a specific improvement, it makes a strong case that there’s a pervasive need for stack enhancements across the entire company.
3. Don't give up on your vision
The most important thing for an engineer with a vision is not to give up. Even if you’re on the receiving end of a fair number of “no’s,” your persistence will probably pay off over time. The enhancements you help introduce will benefit your stack, the rest of your team, and your career. Willingness to advocate for new ideas enables you to stand out, and the skills acquired with new technology can help you reach senior roles more quickly.
If you find advocating for improvements challenging, know it will get easier over time. Many of the most common technologies that engineers are now pushing for, like automation, are becoming increasingly normalized in day-to-day executive conversations. In turn, this makes it easier for engineers to introduce them. And if you can score a “yes” for a minor improvement, the small wins you achieve can serve as proofs of concept for bigger ones.
There’s no way to guarantee your goals for stack improvements will become a reality, but with the proper preparation, you can improve the odds. Becoming a stronger storyteller and framing improvements in terms of benefits rather than features makes a significant difference. And if you can find a champion for your cause in another department, you can provide a compelling story from multiple perspectives.
The effort required will be worth your progress in achieving more efficient network operations.
[ Ready to level up your communication skills? Get advice from IT leaders. Download our Ebook: 10 resources to make you a better communicator. ]
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I agree that network engineers need to be persistent and have strong communication skills to get the buy-in from business executives for network upgrades. It is important to work on aligning the ideas for changes to the business goals to make the process easier for everyone.