Q: The small company I work for is on its way to becoming medium-sized, but our systems and infrastructure haven't kept up. It's hard to bring on new people and keep people connected. I think we need to make some investments but I haven't been able to get the owner and other senior leaders on board. What should I do?
Amelia, 35, IT director
A: Do a solid business case while bringing to life the impact that your systems shortcomings are having.
To some extent, this is a data story. There are some obvious pieces you need: number of staff, equipment they need (computer, phone, Internet and printer access, etc.), and the dollar value of investments you've made to date. You can then calculate a measure of investment per person.
But staying at this level comes with risks. If you've already done this, you've probably shown that, in order to have all new people well equipped, you need to make an eyebrow-raising investment. So, by all means validate the numbers, and project them based on your expected growth. And then move on to the next level of persuasion.
Tie your analysis to your company's core vision and your products and services. What are the essential tools your team members need?
If you run a construction company, people need tools with sufficient power that won't break down in mid-task. It's the same story with your information tools. Create task-based descriptions of the equipment that is needed. Does everyone need the highest-power computer? No, but you better be sure that your data crunchers or graphics artists have them. Keeping your needs assessment task-based will allow you to demonstrate the strength of your budget assumptions.
Then consider the expectations of people you want to attract to your company. Expectations for quality tools, including connectivity, are high. And in a world of remote workers and online connectivity, having stable systems is worth paying for. Clients have high expectations, as well, and if you scrimp too much on infrastructure, your employees will struggle to meet their needs.
Now, the storytelling. First consider your audience. What will move your CEO? Your CFO? Understand the most important points you need to make, and create narratives that support them. For example, you might talk about an employee whose computer timed out while running financial reports. You might not be able to quantify frustration — but you know both the employee and the report user will be experiencing it! And you can quantify the cost of reduced productivity and give it a human face.
In contrast, you may have a success story of someone on a sales call who can access internal systems to provide real-time pricing information. The sale gets made, the customer's needs are met, and your company shows up in a positive light.
As you grow, remember that you control the pace. If you can't afford to do it right, pace yourself so that you can make the investments needed as you go. You'll keep your best people, attract good new talent, and have the systems in place to meet your customers' needs. This is the path to sustained growth.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, leadership coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.