Discover more from Lessons in Engineering Leadership
Lesson #13: Providing updates to senior executives
Hello and thanks in advance for reading lesson #12 of Lessons in Engineering Leadership! Thank you to the 1,889 of you who have subscribed so far! If you’re new here, Lessons in Engineering Leadership is a bi-weekly(-ish) newsletter on a variety of engineering leadership topics that can be read in under 5 minutes.
If you would like to receive longer form newsletters and access to the tools I’ve created over time, you can become a paid subscriber. (This is still a work in progress!)
I’m glad you’re here!
First off, some news!
I’m launching a course on Engineering Management! You can sign up for the waitlist here. I’m preparing the curriculum for this course now. If you looked at this before, look again! I updated the landing page with some more information on what I cover. I hope to launch my first cohort this summer!
Providing updates to senior executives
As stated two weeks ago, I’m spending a bit more time on my newsletter talking about managing up and speaking with those in roles above you. This week I wanted to talk about presenting to senior leadership. If you’re in a position where you’re presenting regular updates to a senior leadership team, your communication and presentation style will likely need to change vs. providing updates to your direct peers.
I’ve spoken with many engineering managers over time who fear presenting to senior leaders. Will they judge my performance? Will I sound stupid? What if I can’t answer their questions?
I promise you, this doesn’t have to be a painful experience! Believe it or not, senior leaders are people too and they, just like you, just want to know what’s going on. :)
This is a bit of an art form I had to learn over time as I’ve communicated with various senior leaders at my own company, so I’m sharing here some of the most important points I’ve adopted to make communicating with senior leaders easy.
Be ready to state the business case for your decisions and proposals. If you’re proposing a change or changing course on a project, make sure you can explain the business impact this change or proposal has. If you’re asking for more resources, for example, make sure you can explain both why you need them and what happens if you don’t receive them. (Will a project delivery get delayed? Will morale be impacted? Will we get off track on our quarterly or annual OKRs?)
Be honest about your roadmap’s feasibility. If your roadmap changes and you think projects are no longer going to be completed at the original time, talk about it early. If you’re not going to deliver a feature that the Sales team is already forward selling, make sure the sales leader knows the ship date of this has changed. This is often better if you start this off as a one-on-one conversation with the product leader, and then you already have the product leader’s buy-in when you announce a delayed launch for a particular project.
Get right to the point. Lead in with the most important point, then add color. We habitually lean into setting the stage before getting to the point; senior leaders want to know the “what” first, and then you can expand on the “why”. Thinking in this format also helps you be more concise with your speaking.
Know your audience. If you’re speaking to non-technical senior leaders, watch out for the jargon you’re using. You want everyone to understand what you’re saying. If there are more technical folks in the audience who want more detail, you can either suggest you set up a call afterwards to dig in deeper, or you can give them a quick answer but not go deep into a technical conversation.
Share your presentation ahead of time. If you give the senior leadership team a chance to absorb the content ahead of time – especially the negatives – you’re much less likely to be caught off guard by comments or questions. Nothing should come as a surprise.
You don’t have to have answers to every question. Answer what you can, but if you don’t have a complete answer, tell them you can get them that answer after the call. Don’t make up an answer if you don’t really know – people can generally see through your bullshit! :)
To wrap this up, know that this is something I think a lot of people fear when they first start having these conversations with senior leaders whether you’re in engineering or not. You’re in good company – but practicing these behaviors (and asking for feedback after your presentation!) will help you improve over time.
What I’m reading
Surprise! I’m still reading High Output Management. I haven’t been doing much reading lately in general.
Check out the full book list for recommendations and an ever-growing reading list.
Note: Links to books in this section are affiliate links to help support the purchase of the rest of my books :)
What I’m working on
Remember two weeks ago when I said I have a lot more free time on my calendar? lol.
I’m heavily focused on three specific areas: increasing the quality of my team’s work output, building out our new office in Poland, and keeping sane.
If this email was forwarded to you, be sure to subscribe to receive bi-weekly emails in your inbox that can be read in under 5 minutes!