No one likes rejection. The circumstances don’t matter that much—hearing the word “no” is generally unpleasant for everyone. As technology professionals, we’ve all been in situations where we’ve made recommendations to key leadership and had those recommendations declined. In an ideal world, your solution was mapped to business objectives using the six-step proven process, kept the three pillars of relevant technology solutions (design, implementation, and sustainability) in mind, and had measurable success criteria. After all of that, hearing the word “no” or the phrase “not right now” is pretty frustrating.
It might not have anything to do with the technology itself. Many solid technology projects are halted due to politics, timing, budget, or a host of other external factors. Regardless of the circumstances and as much as we’re able to logically understand why it might not be feasible to move forward with a particular project right now, it doesn’t make it any easier or less discouraging when that solution is rejected.
This is Your First Opportunity
Believe it or not, your best shot at turning that “no” into a “yes” begins immediately following the initial response. Our instinct may be to go back to our office and discuss the imminent failure that will result from the decision, but it’s really important that we don’t do that. Instead, it’s time to calmly and rationally discuss the risk the district is taking by not implementing the technology/solution you are recommending. Factually state that your existing tech is no longer adequate enough to deal with the issue(s) outlined and list some repercussions leadership can expect if they do nothing. This is something you can use later to gain credibility and respect, but only if it’s done with the school’s best interests in mind. This means we have to check our egos and calmly (but firmly) express the risk the district is assuming by vetoing your project. Frequently, budgetary concerns override urgent needs. District leadership may think that because there hasn’t been a security breach yet there’s no need to invest in a better network security architecture, but we don’t wait until after there’s been a break-in to put locks on our doors. We have a responsibility as IT professionals to do a better job explaining the risks a school/district is taking by saying “no.”
In Case of An Emergency
Once you’ve rationally communicated your concerns to leadership, it’s time to get to work on a backup plan in case those concerns come to fruition. This might seem counterintuitive. After all, you’ve warned the district about the potential risks, so the next logical step seems to be to let them experience them. That’s a mistake we’ve seen time and time again. Unfortunately, even if you’ve explained to key stakeholders that you think they’re going to experience a breakdown, you’ll often still be blamed for the technology failure if/when that breakdown occurs. It’s not fair, it’s not reasonable, and it’s not helpful, but it’s the reality of the situation for many school IT departments. So, your best bet to get a different outcome on your next decision is to be ready to handle the situation now. You can (and should) professionally communicate that you had expressed your concern about this probability, so you took steps to create a contingency plan, which is the only reason you’re able to avoid complete disaster. It’s not necessarily easy or fun, but it tees you up beautifully for the next step in the process, which is to...
...Avoid Saying “I Told You So”
Remember that the point of this process is to secure a more favorable outcome for the end user (i.e. students, parents, and educators). You’ll gain more credibility, be included in planning, and ultimately be viewed as contributors to business objectives (i.e. be seen as relevant IT) throughout this journey. Saying “I told you so!” is off the table if you want to achieve that end goal because as satisfying as it may feel, it’s not conducive to the outcome you are looking to achieve. There is a point, however, that once you have implemented the above-mentioned emergency plan it is completely appropriate to say something like:
“I’m sorry this happened. The solution we discussed [insert length of time here] would have prevented the current issue we’re having with [insert technology here]. While we have a contingency plan that we’re currently using to avoid catastrophe, this is a temporary solution that will not work long term. This is the risk our district assumed as a result of declining to implement that technology, and based on my knowledge of the network/technology, we are going to continue to provide an unsatisfactory experience as long as we continue on this current trajectory. Here are the three things I recommend to get out of the current situation and prevent it from happening again in the future...”
No One Likes This
All these steps go against our human nature. We don’t like to be ignored, and when we're ignored then something goes wrong, it stinks that the burden to fix the problem (the one we tried to avoid) falls on us. But if you can use that situation to your advantage, you can actually leverage that one conversation to rise above being viewed as tactical firefighters, a black-hole cost center, and ineffective basement-dwellers. Rise and become key strategic members of organizational outcomes.
You can get started down the road to IT relevancy now.
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