To keep your management team well informed about the ups and downs of your systems and support issues, you need a simple and effective plan for communicating. You’ll want to keep managers fully informed, but you don’t want to drown them in detail. We spoke with experts and IT pros to get some tips for communicating metrics up to the management level. Here’s what they had to say.
Timing is everything
Judy Benda, executive director of the Help Desk Institute, prescribes a communications plan for keeping senior management engaged and informed. She recommends the following as base timelines:
- Daily reports with a one-page summary of activity
- Monthly cumulative reports
- Quarterly cumulative reports
- Yearly cumulative reports
Tom Limoncelli, an IT manager and coauthor of the book The Practice of System and Network Administration, agrees that communication should be timely and regular. He recommends weekly or monthly status meetings. He also suggests meeting regularly with the highest-ranking manager of the users served or with ranking representatives from each user group served.
Tips for communicating metrics to your support staff
A previous article provided advice for communicating acceptable standards and the goals behind them to your support staff.
Be persistent about meeting with decision makers
If your bosses or senior management balk at having regular meetings, the best approach is to be polite and respect their time, but be persistent. Combining face-to-face meetings and written reports will help calm their fears that you will take up all their time with meetings.
Benda said she recommends having an informal "elevator speech" of about one minute that communicates the contribution value your group makes to the organization. For formal communication, she advises using written reports that provide relevant statistics that have been previously discussed with management.
Limoncelli warns that unless you meet with the actual decision makers, you may run into trouble down the road.
“It’s important that the meeting be with them, not their delegates,” Limoncelli said. “Explain that these meetings are effective only if they are there. The point is to make sure their priorities are met, not their subordinate’s interpretation of their priorities.”
Josh Davis is a network technician for a small software development company in New York City. He and his boss, the IT director, together support a staff of 50, which includes programmers and other personnel. Davis said that he usually opts for frequent, personal, and informal reports with his boss.
“When I arrive, we talk a little while and he usually adds something to my to-do list or we discuss the next steps of the various projects we’re working on,” Davis said. “When I leave, I give him an update of what I was working on. I usually don’t like to leave until I have something to tell him.”
Establishing a routine of when and how you will communicate with your superiors will help you build a reputation as someone who is on top of things. Respecting their time by keeping reports as short as possible while still communicating essential details will help senior management view you as a competent manager.
Alter your communications plan when required
When problems arise, it’s wise to alter your communications plans and maybe your approach as well, Benda advises.
“Changes require a different method—communicate as soon as possible and frequently,” she said. “Engage stakeholders early to incorporate their support. It will be important that regular, clear, concise, and beneficial information be communicated to management and other departments, as well as to the entire organization.”
Davis said that since his company’s employees are technically savvy, most of the time there isn’t a lot of call for assistance. So he gets to spend most of his time working on projects, which means he’s constantly making changes. He said he likes to keep his boss informed about developments, good or bad.
“Every time I make a significant amount of progress, or run into another obstacle, I tell him,” Davis said.
Never put off the inevitable
Since change and occasional problems are normal parts of any business, you should have a plan for how you are going to handle the delivery of bad news. The experts we interviewed recommended planning contingencies for communicating relatively small problems with day-to-day issues as well as for an all-out IT meltdown.
They said the worst thing you can do is stick your head in the sand and put off talking to your bosses about what is going wrong. Don’t make the mistake of believing that you must get the situation under control or that you need to fix the problem before you inform them.
“When it’s difficult for me to tell bad news, I remind myself that managers might not like bad news, but they really hate surprises,” Limoncelli said.
Benda agreed with Limoncelli that it’s best to get bad news out in the open right away. She said you should handle difficult situations or break bad news honestly, concisely, and with empathy. She added that it’s best to focus on the concerns and avoid pointing fingers.
“Keep to the issue and refrain from any personal or character attacks,” she said.
Davis also encouraged prompt, full disclosure.
“There’s no good way to hide bad news, so I tell him straight out,” Davis said. “The sooner I tell him about the problems, the faster we can get them resolved.”
Create a plan and stick to it
Once you’ve developed a communications plan that includes strategies for business as usual, for changes, and for bad news, stick to it. Following such a plan will demonstrate to your boss and key users in the company that your department is helping them and contributing to the overall success of the company. Keep it short and simple, make sure that you cover all the issues they’re interested in, and keep doing it.
What's your plan?
If you have a formal communications plan you can share with TechRepublic members, send it in. If we use it, we’ll send you $50. You can mask any identifying details if you want.