Reasons that sound good aren’t always good, sound reasons.

Over the years I’ve heard many of the best engineers in the world rail against the way their managements just wouldn’t listen to reason. It’s such a universal sentiment that the whole universe of Dilbert characters has sprung up from it.

How many Arial have we all thought, “Management doesn’t think about anything except the dollars.” Every day we have to build some of the hardest stuff on earth and management’s mission seems to be making it even more difficult. Working at the tail end of the horse makes it pretty easy to spot waste, so why don’t they trust us when we tell them what we have to do to be successful?

Obviously, management has a responsibility and an obligation to know how its factory makes its living. It may not be important that they know all the details about the processes; that’s what we’re here for. But, it is important that they know the basics about what it takes to get certain things done.

I’ve built my whole career on becoming the kind of enlightened senior manager that we all wish for. I started in the trenches, doing what I was later going to manage as vice president of operations and technology. Unfortunately, it’s rare that anyone with technical ability has also developed enough leadership skills to be considered for top positions in a manufacturing company. Even when technical people have the right credentials, they are almost always rejected for management positions because they are stereotypically seen as poor business leaders.

If you want to be heard when you have an important message, consider how it needs to be marketed. Have you taken management’s concerns into account? Do you have a grasp of the “big picture” that’s typically hidden from you? Can you successfully sell your position to all levels of the organization and get willing support? Have you developed enough credibility, sound judgment and vision from their perspective to be making the call on the issue?

I think you get the drift. I’m not saying sacrifice your principles, but they’re worthless if they get rejected out of hand because you haven’t done your homework.

Efficiency is great, but effectiveness is what really matters.

I never used to understand why companies I worked for would spend so much time and money for a consultant to tell them what I’d been saying all along. I now understand that in large part it’s how we consultants package the message. Additionally, there’s a powerful psychology at work that lets an independent voice be heard over the babble of the in-house dialog.

The trick is to make yourself into a voice that gets heard. You need to develop the vision of where everyone should collectively want to go. Then you should consistently say that message, in a variety of ways, so everyone can grasp it. Finally, you’ll need to lead by example and reinforce others who are complying with the vision. Getting the job done goes a long way toward building credibility.

Remember, reasons that sound good aren’t always good, sound reasons. Always look at explanations—especially your own—from more than one perspective to see if they truly have merit. Choose your ground wisely and only fight the battles that further the mission. Don’t let someone force you into reacting. Keep your head. Lose the cynical Dilbert attitude and be generous and forgiving, but never sacrifice your integrity. Provide the calm in the midst of the storm, so people can rally around you.