LeadingIn Tech #5: Managing your upstream communication

April 2021

Photo by Brandon on Unsplash

Hi there!

Welcome to the new edition of the LeadingIn.Tech newsletter.

As an Engineering Manager one of my biggest challenges as a technology leader is when I need to communicate upwards in the command chain. It is a lot easier for me to communicate with technical peers than to stakeholders up in the management chain. I'll be sharing in this edition some insights on what I've found when looking for best practices for managing stakeholder communication.

Depending on the company size. Senior managers, directors, VP or C-Level need to process tons of information on a daily basis and the higher in the chain the amount gets even bigger. Senior leadership rely on easy-to-scan, concise, timely and actionable information to efficiently manage their organisations. Here is why it is critical for technology leaders to learn how to effectively communicate upwards.

Easy-to-scan and concise

Scanning through emails and documents can be an exhausting activity so making it easy for the reader to identify the important parts of the content is critical to help them prioritise their attention. Amazon is a well known company for their writing culture. Danny Sheridan in his blog factoftheday1.com recently published his post "Write like an Amazonian" where he summarises in only 5 points the most important practices of the writing culture.

Making things easy-to-scan means that the information can be extracted with little effort. Using few words, reduces amount of time it gets to read the doc. Replacing adjetives and weasel words with data avoids the need for follow up questions such as "how much is much higher?" which is inefficient. Removing unnecessary paragraphs you avoid directing the attention to non-relevant information. And finally while answering questions be direct when answering, if additional data is needed then provide it, this way the reader can decide wether to continue reading if they need additional clarifications about the answer.

Timely and actionable

Keeping your stakeholders on page is critical for earning trust for you and your team. Status reports can feel like a tedious job but a very necessary one. Specially if they are delivered even before you get asked for it. For this it's important to understand what your manager and stakeholders goals are. This will help you understand how your work relates to theirs and what and when the information is relevant to them. Being timely means that the information is available early enough so actions can be planned and taken with enough room. It also means that it is predictable when you will be providing it.

Making information available in a timely manner means also delivering bad news while there is still room to correct the course. If you are delivering bad news it is important to share the right amount of context to understand what was the miss about and how it will be solved. Remember, always bring solutions upfront. Here are some questions to guide you in delivering the bad news:

  • What is the miss about?

  • What is the customer/business impact?

  • Could have been avoided?

  • What is the mitigation plan?

  • Have you considered other alternatives?

  • What did we learn?

  • How will we prevent this from happening in the future?

There are also times where you need your leaders and stakeholders to take action. Could be for calling for a decision or requesting an approval. Jehad Affoneh In the twitter thread below and also in his post Making the case to decision makers: the presentation format to follow he summarises the how you can provide information in a format that will help decision makers take action effectively.

  1. Start with the conclusion.

  2. What’s the problem you’re solving and why does it matter?

  3. What are we currently doing about this problem?

  4. What are our competitors or industry leaders doing?

  5. What’s your solution?

  6. What’s the cost of doing it?

  7. What’s the cost of inaction?

  8. What’s a high level execution plan?

  9. What’s your call to action? This is generally a repeat of #1.

Wrapping-up

  • Use simple language

  • Provide data

  • Be concise

  • Communicate proactively

  • Be predictable

  • Anticipate to your stakeholders needs

  • Share solutions/conclusions upfront

  • Share context

Articles that inspired this issue:

3 problems with managing up

7 Steps to Manage Up Effectively at Work | Fellow.app

9 Expert Tips for Managing Up at Work from Real Leaders

A Tactical Guide to Managing Up: 30 Tips from the Smartest People We Know | First Round Review

Good Writing as an Essential Leadership Skill

How to Manage Up at Work - WSJ

Is managing up a bad thing? | Lara Hogan

Making the case to decision makers: the presentation format to follow

The importance of effective status reports | LeadDev

The science of managing up | Slack

What Everyone Should Know About Managing Up

Write Like an Amazonian

Writing Tips for Remote Workers (And Everyone Else)

Why Managing Up Is A Skill Set You Need

Other articles recently added

Atlassian Announces Its Shift To Distributed-First Policy | Hacker Noon

La evolución del recruitment tecnológico en España | Talento IT Blog

The Role of a Manager Has to Change in 5 Key Ways

The Role of Tech Leads and Engineering Managers 👑 - Refactoring

Transparent Salaries | Buffer

🎧 Podcasts

#85 Juegos infinitos: primeras frases, Mario y Fray Perico y su borrico - Jaime Rodríguez de Santiago

🧰 Other Toolkits

GitHub - kuchin/awesome-cto: A curated and opinionated list of resources for Chief Technology Officers, with the emphasis on startups

Staying Connected – Resilience at Work | Microsoft