Seven Ways to Influence Upwards (and Outwards) in IT

You work in IT. Everyone knows you're good with computers; Mom and Dad call you first any time they have a question, and your friends ask for advice when they're buying a new laptop. "That's the computer whiz," they say, when introducing you to new people.

Yet, at work, when you come across a way to improve your job—a new tool or process that will improve your workflow, for example—there's resistance. Your peers, who might be able to use the same tool, wrinkle their noses at it because it's unfamiliar. Your boss, who used to be all in favor of new and better ways to perform IT duties, doesn't want to change anything because his boss has been on the warpath. And past your boss are managers and executives who don't know enough about your day-to-day job to understand why this tool you've found is so useful and exciting.

Here are seven different ways you can try to convince the people around you that you're on to something special. (Depending on the tool, process, or idea you're arguing for, and the people you're talking to, some of these methods will work better than others; no matter the situation, however, you should be able to effectively use at least one or two.)

  1. Identify how the new workflow will help the company make more money. This one is for your boss. Can the company directly make more money through the use of this tool? The new revenue doesn't have to be directly related to what you've discovered, either. For example, if you find a way to automate part of your work, freeing up your time for other tasks, can that time be used to perform additional profitable services for clients?

    When determining your approach, your main question should be whether you need to convince your boss, or whether you need to give him an argument that will convince his boss (or both). Those can be two very different audiences.
  1. Identify how the company will save money. This one is also for your boss. Just like #1, it's about increasing overall profit, but it has its own spot on the list because this argument requires a different approach. In general, talking about how a new work process will help your department meet its budget is less exciting than one which will bring in additional revenue. However, if the boss' main concern is not spending too much money rather than making more, this is the argument you should lean on.

    All that being said...

    IT managers have historically been tasked to make sure the IT staff does their necessary work without overspending. As time progresses, IT is becoming responsible for bringing in revenue at more companies. You have to know which side of this coin your boss is on in order to know which of these first two approaches will be more likely to succeed.
  1. Appeal to the tech-nerd in everyone. IT pros, especially ones that have been doing the job for a long time, like nothing more than digging into the hardware and code to tinker with how things work. As technology evolves to automate more and more processes, the IT staff's time can be used more efficiently, but the work doesn't always scratch that itch to work with tech on the basest level. Your new tool may not necessarily replicate that experience, but anything powerful with a high degree of customizability can get the attention of your peers if you sell it as, for example, "playing with options" rather than "working more efficiently."

  2. Point out that the tool is publicly available. Unless you invented it yourself, whatever you're introducing everyone to is available to anyone who wants to buy it. You can use the FOMO (fear of missing out) phenomenon to make the case that the tool is worth using because competitors will make use of it as well.

    This can be especially effective if you have to make your case to managers or executives outside of IT. They may not understand the technological argument, but they'll understand profit, and they'll understand not wanting to give competitors an advantage. This idea requires you to successfully argue that the tool is valuable in and of itself; the FOMO effect is more of an ace in the hole if convincing them of value isn't enough.
  1. Suggest experimenting with the tool rather than a full-fledged commitment. In many cases, whatever you want to use doesn't have to replace your current tools or processes in full, or immediately. The staff can fiddle with your discovery while relying on what they already know until a final decision is made whether to switch or abandon the new idea.

  2. Be honest about any downsides.Make the argument for your discovery as strongly as you can, then acknowledge anything which may be, or appear to be, a drawback for the department. Have answers at the ready for why these drawbacks aren't problems. It works for business, and it can work for you, showing that you're viewing the tool in full rather than through rose-tinted glasses or as some kind of salesman. If you feel the need to elide some drawbacks because you're concerned they'll make the boss or your peers uninterested, you may need to ask yourself why you think the tool is so good in the first place.

    This is important not just for your current argument, but for your future. It's possible, if not probable, that there will be a downside you never knew about. That's fine; people understand mistakes happen. But if you hide two drawbacks you know about, then the staff finds both of those and a third which takes you by surprise, you're going to look incompetent at best and untrustworthy at worst. That's not a perception you want among your co-workers.
  1. Choose your time to make the argument wisely. This might not sound like a 'way' to convince anyone, but it might be the most important aspect of the whole deal. Know the people you need to talk to, and know their current situations. A boss being threatened with layoffs in his department probably doesn't want to experiment with new software; on the other hand, if layoffs are imminent and the boss could use anything to argue for a delay in the move, it might be the perfect time to make your pitch.

    Usually you'll make your pitch to someone who's relatively neutral, willing to listen to a good argument but needing to be convinced. If you're lucky, you'll find someone who's looking for something new, whether it's to improve performance, alleviate the day-to-day doldrums, or just because they love to experiment. Avoid anyone who's under particular stress or generally dislikes change—if that's your boss, win over your colleagues first so you can have the power of numbers behind you when you finally talk to him.
Above all else, remember this: when you're arguing in favor of a better way to work, your focus shouldn't be on the shiny new tool. It should always be on the people you're trying to convince. Figure out how your new and better method fits their needs, and you'll be most of the way to winning them over.
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