HOW TO: Communicate with suits

Categories How To

I wear business casual to work every day. I’m talking about hoodies, t-shirts, and jeans. Although this is a bit informal for a proper business setting, those of us in the creative field tend to express ourselves through our projects, and not through our outward communication. We sit in our labs thinking up new ways to present our company products and brand while keeping it trendy and relevant to our niche markets. But we have no idea how to deal with the CEOs, managers, supervisors, financial officers, attorneys and sales people. I’m of course talking about the suits.

Suits are the individuals that keep the company running 24/7/365. They get straight to the point and want the facts and figures. Here are just a few of the questions I’m constantly posed by suits:

  • How much will it cost?

  • How will we benefit from this project?

  • How can we quantify this?

Creatives tend to be uninhibited, free-flowing, and usually easy-going individuals that care more about the quality of their projects and the impact they have on the community. Suits keep it real however and remind us that this is business their running and the end game has to improve our profit margins. So it’s easy to see how creatives and suits tend to struggle sometimes to communicate with one another because they have different goals. Creatives want to build something unbelievably cool, and suits tend to be wringing their hands over the bottom line.

Here we will cover how those of us in the creative field can communicate effectively with our bosses and corporate board members. We will delve into what exactly suits deem as critically important to the company, so that you can implement those factors into your next project proposal or board meeting.

It’s not about you

To be on the same page with your boss, you need to be reading the same book! You have to understand exactly what there wants and goals are for the company. This doesn’t mean that you should forget about your own wants and goals for your career, but whenever you’re introducing a new idea to your suits you have to consider exactly what they’re looking for or they’ll just completely tune you out before you can even get to the good parts. In terms of running a company, most suits (if not all) are most concerned with two different goals:

  • Increasing profits

  • Growing their business

So when you communicate your next creative project with them, make sure you think about these ideas first. Think about how your project will benefit your company. Don’t just say that you want to implement a program that will be easier on the employee’s workflow, talk about how and where exactly this will speed up productivity and how it will directly affect sales as a result. Once you implement the program, go back after a month or two and put together a quantifiable presentation on how exactly your project has had an effect on profits.

Maybe your boss is focused on some other aspects of the company. Maybe they have an entirely different set of goals in mind. The point is that you think about their goals first before you tell them about your own. People are always interested in hearing more about what they want than anything else, so make sure that you understand what suits want before you open communications.

Stand by your ideas

Don’t get in the boxing ring unless you’re ready to take the punches. Suits almost always play the devil’s advocate in meetings with creatives. Every idea is met with concerns, objections, and flat out disapproval. But quite frankly, that’s their job. If every project that just happens to come by their desk gets approved, that company wouldn’t last past the end of the month. It’s your job to completely convince suits that you’ve got it under control. Show them first how it relates to their goals, and then encourage them that they have nothing to worry about.

The key here is to be completely prepared. Never get caught off your guard during communication with a suit. You have to face your project’s weak points and risks head on, and address them immediately before your boss even has a chance to make a comment about it.

You won’t be prepared for everything that comes your way. But the important part is that you don’t let up at the first signs of trouble. Every project has flaws, and it could just mean that you have to rework a couple of details instead of abandoning your ideas entirely.

Don’t forget the details

When I was a kid I would always think up great ideas for novels I wanted to write when I grew up. Super heroes from space, time traveling dinosaurs and underwater castles were just the tip of the iceberg for me. But they never developed into anything more than an idea because I never bothered to look at the details. Who are the characters and what exactly will they say? What’s the plot and how did is all come together in the end? I would get frustrated thinking about it and just move on to riding my bike.

In a way, a lot of creatives fall into the same trap. They think of these amazing and very bold creative concepts but don’t bother to look at the details. It’s like having the perfect painting captured in your head but without having a clue about what colors or tools you’d need to recreate it on a canvas. Everyone’s got great ideas, but they’re useless unless you really put the time and effort into them.

That means getting off you high horse and looking at what exactly it’s going to take to get this done logistically. Suits want to know the details, and they don’t care about the fuzzy warm feeling you get whenever you talk about how your project will “change the world.” Granted, you won’t know everything and part of the suit’s job is figuring out the finer details, but if you want to speak their language then you’re going to have to get into the meat of the project. Have graphs and a presentation set up if possible. Get some second opinions from your coworkers. Put together everything and anything that you might find relevant to your manager’s needs and then go to war!

Well, not really. Just do you best and remember that we’re all on the same team. Everybody wants to improve the company and do cool stuff to make it happen. Just make sure that the suits see that you’re on their side and they’ll definitely be there to listen intently.

Author bio: Vincent Clarke is an Internet Marketing Specialist for USB Memory Direct, a wholesaler of custom promotional flash drives. He enjoys working one-on-one with customers to deliver great outcomes and is always looking for new content marketing strategies. You can connect with him on Twitter @_vhclarke.

header image courtesy of Gavin Watson

Catalin is the founder of Mostash - a social marketing boutique - and he's always happy to share his passion for graphic design & social media.