The Technical Communicator as Strategic Consulting Partner


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The Technical Communicator as Strategic Consulting Partner

  1. 1. The Technical Communicator as Strategic Consulting Partner Cynthia C. Currie and Kristen J. Erickson Service-based. Needs-based. Relationship-based. • Is responsible for improving relations between Trust-based. These are the types of relationships people and technology that can exist between you and your clients. As a • Is responsible for the experience of the end technical communicator, you will likely have user relationships at the service and need-based levels, • Is a partner in the IT business because they perhaps even at the relationship-based level. To contribute to: truly have bottom line impact for your client, Decision and policy making however, you need to have that trust-based Design and Research relationship. How do you get to the trust-based Business planning level? This paper describes the role of the technical Management communicator as strategic consulting partner, a trust-based relationship for sure, and provides some • Acts as a bridge to bring teams together practical approaches to getting there. Ultimately, the technical communicator bridges the gaps between the various aspects of an IT solution so that the total customer experience is a positive one. INTRODUCTION In large IT companies, technical communicators BRIDGING THE TEAMS typically work at all levels of an organization, supporting all types of projects and programs. The The typical enterprise IT solution consists of a technical communicator as a strategic consulting combination of hardware, software, and services. partner is one who influences and guides the Each of these components includes some form of strategies and programs that fulfill an technical communication: installation and organization’s goals. How does a technical configuration guides, integration guides, user and communicator grow in stature enough to have this administrator information, training, and support type of impact on an organization? The answer is materials. Just by the nature of the technical relationships. By building and nurturing communicator’s work, the technical communicator relationships at the “right” level of an is at the center of this environment working to organization – from senior managers to Directors, ensure organizational readiness, technology to VPs, to the Senior Executive team – a technical deployment and a positive total customer communicator can truly have an impact. experience. ROLE OF THE TECHNICAL COMMUNICATOR Today’s technical communicator is one who: • Understands the developers’ and users’ minds • Guides users through new technology • Shows developers good usability design • Finds the bugs in a product In this environment, the technical communicator • Is process oriented and solves problems automatically starts becoming a strategic • Negotiates for the best wording and consulting partner. The technical communicator is formatting a problem solver who works on strategies and • Translates technical jargon to everyday tactics for deploying a new technology solution language successfully … from the installation of “boxes” to STC's 50th Annual Conference Proceedings 121
  2. 2. the full readiness of the people who will use the THE ROLE OF THE new technology in order to ensure a high-quality “total customer experience;” the full gamut. The STRATEGIC CONSULTING technical communicator touches nearly all aspects PARTNER of a solution implementation. The technical communicator as strategic consulting partner works to ensure that the human side of IT A CHANGING WORKPLACE projects is fully addressed so that all technology projects are “accepted,” that the technology is used Today’s workplace is marked by constant change as intended, and that customer satisfaction (that – new technology is introduced on a daily basis, high-quality, “total customer experience” again) is and projects constantly shift direction to meet ensured. changing company goals and strategies. In this dynamic-global environment, technical The failure rate of technology projects can be quite communicators are challenged to quickly shift high, but not typically because of flaws in the directions to support the business need, yet retain technology or the implementation of it. Usually, focus on meeting the demands of a diverse failure is the result of the people who need to use customer base. the new technology not being aware of, prepared for, or ready to adopt and use it. Technical communicators need to work collaboratively across groups and functions, A strategic consultant: keeping a system perspective on the solution. As a • Is focused on the “human side of IT” result, technical communicators are in a good • Is highly visible and seeks out opportunities position to ensure that the business stays for additional visibility: customer-focused. This is important because Sits on one or more senior managers’ companies are putting customer satisfaction as staffs their number one priority. Participates in business planning activities • Understands the customer’s business almost as The technical communicator brings an expertise well as the customer does toward quality that ensures customer satisfaction. • Knows his/her value to the customer’s They provide value to the exchange of business information through: Higher-order technical communication skills (consulting, solution architecture, • Customization for niche audiences project management) • Ease of use Advanced business skills (strategic • Scalability planning) • Documentation that acts as the interface Organizational design and operational • Presentation that is dynamic yet stable, effectiveness reliable, and usable • Is able to articulate his/her value through value • Systems that provide customized, yet flexible proposition and impact statements and reusable content • Makes investments to provide proofs of concept, demonstrate capabilities, and earn trust • Takes risks • Is confident and extremely professional • Behaves (→ becomes) as a Trusted Advisor 122
  3. 3. PROGRAM WORK OF THE FOUR TYPES OF STRATIGIC CONSULTANT RELATIONSHIPS With the technical communicator as strategic The strategic consulting partner has a trust-based consulting partner acting as an architect or general relationship with clients. In order to get to that practitioner, the master bill of materials or level, the technical communicator needs to go interventions that would be likely delivered through the lower levels first. include: The four levels or types of relationships that exist • Client Relationship Management are Service, Needs, Relationship and Trust. • Strategic Planning and Consulting • Communication and Engagement • Knowledge Management • Planned Change (Leadership and Management) • Training and Education (eLearning/Distance learning) • Leadership Development • Web Design/Delivery/Maintenance • Assessment/Evaluation/Measurement • Business Process Analysis and Design • Organizational Design Excerpted from The Trusted Advisor by David H. Maister, PROGRAM TEAMS OF THE Charles H. Green, and Robert M. Galford. STRATIGIC CONSULTANT In a service-based relationship, the client views the technical communicator as a subject matter or These teams are the subcontractors or specialists process expert. The technical communicator is required to assist the strategic consultant in basically a vendor brought in to do something very performing their work. It is a disadvantage for a specific, performing with excellence and expertise, strategic consultant to be specialized, however but with activities being limited in scope. they need to have specialists there to support the work that needs to be done. These specialists In a needs-based relationship, the client views the include: technical communicator as possessing some • Information Designers/Technical Writers capabilities not directly related to the original area • Instructional Designers/Course Developers of expertise. The technical communicator may • Marketing/Sales/Communications Specialists begin to focus on their ability to solve more general problems and not focus solely on their technical • Information Architects/Web expertise. Designers/Developers • Graphic Designers In a relationship-based relationship, the client • Editors views the technical communicator as a valuable • Usability Specialists resource that they might consult with on broad • Performance Consultants strategy issues related to the area of expertise, but • Assessment/Evaluation/Measurement not only limited to that expertise. Specialists • Industrial Psychologists/Psychometricians In a trust-based relationship, the client views the technical communicator as a confidante, a person By using specialists to complete the work, the with whom they can share all issues … personal strategic partner can work to build that trust-based and professional. relationship with the client. 123
  4. 4. the mission, objectives, goals, and strategies of an organization’s future state – is a tremendous value- add. Take some risks … calculated ones … but get “out there” and try new things. Be willing to do your homework and do some work for free in order to provide proofs of concept and demonstrate capabilities, which will really earn the trust you need to have from senior managers to become their trusted advisor. Excerpted from The Trusted Advisor by David H. Maister, Charles H. Green, and Robert M. Galford. A Trusted Advisor is someone who focuses on the As a technical communicator you are likely to client, takes risks to advance the relationship with a have relationships at the first two relationship point of view (and in our case “fresh perspective”), levels. The third level is a little harder to achieve, and goes beyond win/win to the point of true but completely possible. If you have been collaboration. working with a client for a number of years, you may have already achieved this level. Developing Do not underestimate the role of trust in advising a trust-based relationship is quite a bit harder and and managing complex business relationships. takes a bit longer, and in fact may never happen. Realize that technical excellence alone is not enough to solve business problems. Before you can BECOMING A STRATEGIC get the opportunity to deliver a solution that provides lasting value to someone, you must get CONSULTING PARTNER them to trust you with their business problems. A technical communicator’s ability to consult, To aide in your development towards a strategic advise, and guide is determined by how extensive consultant: their knowledge is of the client’s business. So, • Find a sponsor/mentor you need to look for opportunities to get as close to the business as you can. Opportunities can • Remember roles and understand relationships within the organization include attending staff meetings regularly, reviewing and providing input to business plans, • Build relationships with people and reading status reports. • Speak/write from their perspective • Speak/write with “we” instead of “I” To transition from a technical communicator to a • Guide management on user’s perspectives strategic consulting partner, listen first and make • Demonstrate value add sure to learn the language of senior management. • Show measurable results Then, when speaking, use language that has meaning to senior managers and focus on the • Ask, what else will help get the message out – value of the business impact that you can deliver. training, web, manual, e-mail ? Remember, the higher up in an organization, the • Ask, is there a better or more efficient more “bottom line” the managers are, and the process? more concise and to the point you need to be. • Refine negotiation and program management skills Business knowledge coupled with the skills and • Research client’s business/read trade journals capabilities you bring to the table as a technical • Suggest alternate ways of presenting communicator make you a powerful addition to a information. senior manager’s staff and business planning • See through what the clients say they want to activities. Coming in from the outside also allows the real problem – then suggest a way to solve you to take a holistic view of a customer’s it. organization and business requirements so that you can design more comprehensive programs Remember: to get something you've never had (integrating numerous forms of technical before, you must do things you've never done communication!) that meet all business before.” requirements. Strategic planning – establishing 124
  5. 5. REFERENCES (1) Maister, David H., Charles H. Green, and Robert M. Galford. The Trusted Advisor. New York: The Free Press. 2000. Cynthia C. Currie Senior Performance Consultant Hewlett-Packard Company 110 Spit Brook Rd., ZKO1-3/E11 Nashua, NH 03062 (603) 884-1249 Cindy is an STC Associate Fellow who has 20 years experience as a technical communicator. Currently, she consults on improving human performance associated with IT deployment. She nurtures relationships with Senior Executives in order to influence and guide the strategies and programs they create to fulfill their organization’s business goals. Kristen J. Erickson Senior Performance Specialist Hewlett-Packard Company 110 Spit Brook Rd., ZKO1-3/E11 Nashua, NH 03062 (603) 884-0743 Kristen has 10 years experience as a technical communicator. Currently, she consults on improving organizational performance by focusing on the human side of the equation. She works across management levels building relationships that allow her to design the best solution to meet the client needs. 125