Communicating with Senior Management Speaking their language …

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Ben Jackson, Juniper Networks & Jack Johnson, Alcatel-Lucent

Sports. Arts. Business. Each has its own language. Language uniquely defines a culture and helps forge the identity of groups. Understanding between people is always improved by using a common language.

The same is true for senior management. Senior management speaks its own language; the language of business. Return on investment. Customer retention. Strategic bets. Collaboration. So one key way you can help senior leadership understand you—and therefore your documentation issues—is to employ the language of business. Not just any business jargon, but the precise language that reigns in your workplace.

Communicate with senior management using terms they also use, and present your data in wrappers they recognize. The dividends are clear—you will be better understood. Your issues will resonate, all without much extra effort. After all, customer information is about clear expression targeted to a specific audience.

Here are some suggestions about using the language that senior management values, and how your documentation organization can better speak that language to be heard around the boardroom table.

Connect With the Business

A business survives and thrives by focusing on profit. The best way to be profitable is to have customers buy, use, and come back for more of your products. Better those products be yours than your competitors. We work for competing companies in the telecommunications space, but there is no competition in this message: Information development is an integral part of the customer value chain. Good information makes products easier to use, reducing operating expense for your customer.

Yet not all executives understand the role of information. They may not understand because documentation jargon was used to explain the role. Part of your job is to educate executives about the value information brings to the customer in a language they understand. Take these two examples, and decide which one speaks more directly to a business division president:

a) 47 PDFs were produced in the most recent four-week period compared to 44 PDFs in the previous period
b) Seven of our top 10 customers accessed and rated “above average” 28 of 47 user documents released last month.

A metric that measures customer use of the product catches an executive’s ear and eye more quickly than an internally focused metric. The first example is worth a round of applause at the inter-departmental meeting. The second example interests executives around the boardroom’s polished oak table.

Transparency

Businesses run on money. Money is allocated via budgets. Executives love knowing where the money is spent. A documentation department can win a lot of friends by being transparent about its financial matters, including resource allocation. Some suggestions:

  • Report budgets consistently using the tools and methods used in other parts of the business.
  • Categorize costs in the same manner and to the same level of detail as your peers elsewhere in the business.
  • Act as money steward; treat the money carefully and cut costs when you can.
  • If there are money problems, don’t ask an executive for an answer, approach the executive with a solution.
  • Show how your resources are aligned to the priorities of the business, and communicate what is “above and below the line” so executives will understand potential project coverage issues.

Connect

Executives possess a basic understanding of how every corner of the organization operates. This understanding allows them to make connections between disparate teams in the service of customers. Take this approach in the documentation department as well. Do you know what role every single person in the project core team meeting plays? And do you know who your key stakeholders are—and have you met with them recently? If not, you may be missing out on valuable customer insight or some expertise that could improve your information. Make connections and reach out, and keep your important stakeholders informed about the value you and your team are providing for the business. What you learn could help your information, your team, or your management.

Ownership

Take ownership of troublesome issues. Every day, all day, executives face tough decisions that directly impact products, jobs, and profit. They already have problems. They don’t need more. When a problem arises, find a solution and approach leadership with the solution. Even if an executive’s time or power is needed to implement that solution, they’ll be more likely to get involved when the leg work is already complete.

By continuing to innovate and then aligning your innovations with the direction and values of your company’s executive team, your documentation departments can forge a trusted partnership with senior leaders.

About the authors
Ben Jackson is the VP of Technical Documentation and Information Experience at Juniper Networks
Jack Johnson is the Senior Director of Customer Documentation and Network Management R&D at Alcatel-Lucent

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