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How Senior Managers Think and Why You Need to Know

As an IT professional, a lot of the work you do is approved or endorsed by the senior management team in the company. They have the ability to approve the budgets and proposals for projects. It’s a good idea to know how they think, and I’ll show you why in this article.

Why You Need To Know How Managers Think

Let’s say you’re a programmer, and your role is developing an interface between several systems. You’re good at your job, and know about the projects that you’re working on at the moment.

But, then you have a great idea. You have a way that you can rewrite some of the code and implement a new tool that can help you do your job easier. Now, here’s where knowing how senior managers think comes into it.

For your idea to get implemented, you’ll probably need to speak to a few people and get some managers to say “OK, we can do that.” You need to understand how these managers think in order to satisfy them and get your idea approved.

Another reason why you should know how senior managers think is that it helps your understanding of how the business works. Learning about what their goals are, their challenges, and their motivation, will help you realise what’s important to the rest of the business and can also help your ideas get approved. It can even help you come up with more ideas.

So let’s have a look at three main areas that senior managers usually think about. I say “usually”, because the focus of managers will be different between companies, industries, and roles.

Cost and Benefit

The main thing that I’ve seen senior managers think about and ask about is the area of “cost and benefit”. This is where the the cost of doing something is weighed up against the benefits of that something.

Getting things done takes money and time, and should deliver some kind of benefit. These senior managers have a limited amount of money and time, and need to be able to get the most benefit out of it. So, when you have an idea for a change or are working on a project, the main thing that a senior manager will ask is “what is the cost and what is the benefit?” This is the kind of information you should know about if you would like to improve your career and get new ideas approved.

It’s sometimes referred to as “cost benefit” or “cost benefit analysis”. A cost benefit analysis is something that is done to compare the costs against the benefits. The costs will usually be:

  • Labour costs (costs of people’s time, both permanent staff and contractors)
  • Software or licensing costs
  • Any other costs as part of the project

For the benefits, they include:

  • Increased revenue
  • Increased productivity
  • Decrease in future costs
  • Improved business targets, such as market share or public awareness

Senior Managers Think About The Future

A lot of the questions that senior managers will ask are about the future. Sure, you may have a good idea to rewrite some code and buy a new tool, but a senior manager would probably need to know a few more things before allowing this to happen:

  • What impact does this have on the system in the future?
  • What happens if the supplier of the tool goes out of business?
  • How long until we need to upgrade the system entirely?

These kind of questions involve asking about the future of the system. It may be a good idea to implement something now, but considering how it impacts what happens in the future is something that senior managers think.

Some Details But Not Very Technical

The key thing that I see being missed by technical people when explaining things or communicating to senior managers is the level of detail. I get this wrong sometimes as well. It’s something I’ve learnt over my career and have gotten better at, but it’s a hard skill to perfect.

Senior managers, in general, don’t really care about the details of what is being done. They want to know about the costs, benefits, and the future, as I mentioned above. The details they usually do care about is the impact. The impact is what will happen to the company if they do, or don’t, implement this change. This can include numbers and time and risk and cost.

Some of the points to know about the impact are:

  • What will happen if we don’t do it?
  • How many staff will be using this new tool?
  • How many licenses would we need (if it’s license-based)?
  • What is the improved productivity of this change?

These kind of details can often be measured in numbers or percentages, and depending on the person, they might want to know about it.

The kind of details they don’t usually need to know about are:

  • Specific code or sections that need to be changed
  • The details on how the new tools work
  • Installation steps

Giving senior managers the right information to get them to make a decision, without overwhelming or confusing them, is a challenge. I hope this article has helped you work out what information is important and helpful for them. What has your experience been with senior managers? Share your thoughts in the section below.

Career Action Tip

For one of the projects you’re working on, speak to the project manager and ask if you can get a copy of the initial proposal documentation, to see how it was presented to the managers.