TechRepublic member John Owens recently e-mailed me about how to justify an IT hardware upgrade to senior management for a team of 22 analysts. John has worked in IT for seven years and is currently a team leader for an organization in Ireland.
There is no template or standard operating procedure for trying to persuade senior managers to spend money on something that will benefit your team and help it provide outstanding service for the organization. Organizational culture, current economic environment, the IT manager's credibility as a trusted and knowledgeable professional, and the temperament and priorities of a senior manager can all play a large role in how successful such an effort will be.
IT managers who want to persuade their senior managers to support requests like John's need to plan out their strategies before proceeding. Here are some tips that can help with that process.
Focus arguments on efficiencies
Gather as much information as possible about how the hardware upgrades will help the team do its job better and how the organization will benefit. Don't focus on how the upgrades will make the team's job easier. Instead, focus your arguments on how the work will be performed more efficiently and with fewer delays and errors. Try to find evidence of how the upgrades have helped other organizations.
Potential cost savings
The possibility of cost savings can often get the attention of a senior manager. Will the upgrades result in more work being performed by team members or the same amount of work being performed by fewer people? For example, if an organization is downsizing or the team is shorthanded, hardware upgrades may actually save money because the same level of work will be accomplished with a smaller staff.
Time your requests strategically
Be sensitive to current conditions within the organization that might affect the decision in some way. If the organization is dealing with economic hardship, it might be better to wait on approaching senior management about spending large amounts of money on hardware upgrades. Also, if the organization is moving through a transition period (new products or change of sales focus, for example), it might be possible to present your hardware needs in a way that will have a positive impact on the organization's priorities at the time.
Solicit advice from seasoned managers
Remember that persuasion is a process and not a task or event. It often requires patience and attention to detail. It is rare that senior management will agree to a large outlay of resources on the first attempt, no matter how important the need might be. Talk to seasoned managers or others within the organization about the best way to get the attention of senior managers. Some organizations process resource needs once or twice a year or have specific procedures for requesting resources. If that's the case, find out how to get your needs on the wish list or what procedures you need to follow.
Prepare your presentation with your boss in mind
Successful managers become proficient at understanding what motivates their senior managers. For example, some managers like to have formal presentations along with PowerPoint slides and a lot of written material to justify a request for resources. Others may not have the patience to deal with elaborate presentations and will become frustrated when presented with a large amount of material. You may believe that you know the best way to present your case for new hardware upgrades or other resources. However, the best way will usually be the way your senior manager wants the request to be presented.
A successful scenario
The following scenario may help illustrate some of these points. Brittany is a new IT manager responsible for managing a help desk team of 20 people. She has seven years of experience working with all aspects of a help desk environment, but this is her first management opportunity. When hired for her new position, she was told by her senior manager that her first priority would be to identify ways the help desk could provide better service to users.
Once working in her new job, Brittany quickly realized that better management of the help desk processes would not sufficiently address the issue of better service to users. The equipment used by help desk staff was antiquated, and the team's downtime due to poorly functioning equipment was unacceptable. Brittany believed that the only way she could be truly successful in improving help desk service was to obtain equipment upgrades.
She approached her senior manager about the upgrades. He indicated that he understood her need for better equipment but that the organization could not afford to provide the upgrades. Brittany was disappointed but asked if she could develop a presentation on why the upgrades were important and how they would help her team be more proficient. Her senior manager agreed and suggested that she plan to present her case to a team of senior managers from the various departments at their monthly meeting on operational issues.
Brittany spent the next several weeks researching the type of equipment her team needed and determining which vendors provided the best price and service. She also worked with team members to develop a concise presentation on how the upgrades would improve the operation of the help desk, such as allowing them to be proactive rather than reactive in serving the user base.
Then, she met with her manager to show him the presentation. He made some suggestions for improving it and told Brittany that he would schedule time for her to present her case at the next senior management team meeting. Brittany made her presentation using PowerPoint slides and other documentation. The group indicated support for her ideas but, as with her manager, questioned the organization's ability to purchase the new hardware. Brittany was again disappointed but felt that she had, at least, stated her case and gotten some preliminary support for the upgrades.
Shortly after Brittany made her presentation, the LAN crashed and was not accessible by users for more than 48 hours. An evaluation of the situation was conducted, which revealed that the LAN crash cost the organization more than $50,000 in lost productivity. It was also learned that the problems could have been avoided by having better diagnostic equipment to maintain the system. A few days after the evaluation was completed, her manager informed Brittany that her request for new equipment upgrades had been approved.
The moral of this story is that Brittany laid the groundwork for the approval of the new equipment by communicating the need for the upgrades in a clear and competent manner and then being ready to act when circumstances provided the opportunity.
Our member John certainly has his work cut out for him in getting upgrades for 22 analysts. However, he has the greatest chance for success if he does his homework and learns as much as he can about the upgrades, including how they will increase efficiency and how they will contribute to the overall success of the organization. He will also benefit from learning as much as possible about the organization's culture and work environment, as well as the management styles of decision-makers. These factors could prove critical in securing approval of equipment upgrades and other resources.
Remember that the art of persuasion in a business environment requires patience and perseverance. Don't give up if the answer is no. Conditions and circumstances often change—and when that happens, effective managers will be ready to act to get what they need.
New manager questions
Steven Watson has 10 years of IT management and consulting experience and has developed an understanding of how the issues faced by IT managers differ from those of their nontechnical colleagues. As a new tech manager, do you have a question you’d like him to address? Send it to us via e-mail, or post it in the discussion below.
For more information about persuading senior managers to go along with the things you believe are important, check out Artful Persuasion: How to Command Attention, Change Minds and Influence People by Harry A. Mills (2000) and Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher, Bruce Patton (Editor), and William Ury (1991).