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Are you comfortable providing solutions that impact your company both upstream and downstream from where you have a functional position?
Let’s face it. We are moving towards a new business and economic paradigm. Civil engineers providing the greatest value to their organizations may no longer be those engineers having expertise in only one area. Rather, the new business paradigm may place more value on engineers who understand how to translate their engineering expertise into the business language and perspective of audiences residing upstream and downstream in their organization.
How do you gain this ability? How effectively do you translate your body of knowledge to others in your organization? And no, this is not a glorified version of “sucking up” to your top brass or engaging in any form of Machiavellian politics. Who has time to play games and engage in office melodramas fueled by inauthentic, self-serving actions?
This guest post for the CivilEngineeringCentral.com blog provides a list of areas you may want to develop and incorporate into your skill set so folks in your organization better understand “how you do what you do.” As you grow your personal style, knowledge base and ability to communicate, you just may find some new doors opening up for you.
Understand the national and global economic environment into which your engineering solution is being placed. Read newspapers online. Use RSS feeds to do industry- related searches. Read blogs on engineering topics.
What are the local, state, regional and national conditions impacting your project, your expertise and that of your company? What are the competitive conditions impacting your company’s ability to win the work? Where’s the money coming from to fund these projects? What trends are being reported?
Look at Sam Richter’s website, which is based on his great book Take The Cold Out of Cold Calling. Sam provides recommendations for online resources for business and industry reporting. Work towards building a more well-rounded perspective about business development, economic trends and your area of expertise. Operating inside a vacuum is not an option.
Understand the mindset of the folks up and down the corporate food chain. Depending on where we sit around the table, we see the same things differently. Work towards developing an understanding of everyone’s mindset – not only in your own organization but also in your clients’ organizations. Rule of thumb: the higher up the food chain, the more focus on the bottom line. The lower down the food chain, the more silo-ed the thinking, the more loyal and risk-averse the individual.
Don’t get hung up trying to change mindsets or make folks “see things your way.” Rather, work towards communicating your messages using their perspectives, not yours. They will “get” what you are saying a lot more easily than you think. Develop a communication style that correlates your project outcome to the bottom line – from everyone’s perspective. Let those silo-ed individuals understand how your solutions may help them do their jobs better. You may start to become more of an asset to your organization than you already are.
Selling to VITO, a sales book by Anthony Parinello, focuses on the importance of understanding the mindset of everyone at every level in an organization. He succinctly breaks down each functional position’s mindset in terms of being a risk taker or risk averse, as well as being a decision maker or a gatekeeper. Incorporate some of these principles into your next project team meeting to gain a better understanding of the dynamics of decision making.
Develop the skills to confidently communicate your information during meetings with internal customers (your colleagues) as well as current and potential customers. This is the hard part, because so many engineers feel like they are “acting” or speaking a foreign language at this point.
Understand that the best way of communicating information is by LISTENING and asking good questions. Round out your perspective and understand how the language of business varies from the language and mindset of engineering. In this global economy, treat each conversation you have with your colleagues as though you were speaking a foreign language – even if you both speak American!
I recommend reading Jill Konrath’s book, blog and website, all called Selling To Big Companies. Jill takes a no-nonsense approach to asking provocative and insightful questions that have upstream and downstream potential.
Take advantage of educational opportunities to bulk up your cross-functional skillset. HR at your organization can tell you about educational opportunities available if you are a displaced civil engineering professional. If you are an engineering student, take business courses on marketing and finance. You may end up starting your own business! There are continuing education courses and plenty of free webinars and seminars being offered via online and local networking communities. Many of these opportunities are free of charge or are offered at minimal cost. Online webinars and online courses often can be downloaded and accessed when it’s convenient for your schedule.
Whether you are a student, current employee, business owner or displaced civil engineering professional, review the value of what you bring to the table: past, present and future. Take an honest look at where gaps exist . Work towards developing the tools and techniques that can assist you in more effectively communicating what you bring to the table to upstream and downstream audiences. Your ability to build a more cross-functional, well-rounded perspective can assist you in career development and business development.
What are you waiting for?