Leadership Lessons from Ben Burgett: Tell a Good Story

I started at IGS in March of 2016. It was a really exciting time in my career. It felt great to join a company that had recently won a “best places to work” award. That being said, there was a lot of work to do from a technical and personnel perspective and I was a bit anxious to get started.

I decided to begin by collecting information about each team member about their primary concerns. Overwhelmingly, they cited a lack of system redundancy and disaster recovery processes. All of our systems operated out of our primary data center in Dublin, Ohio with our backups stored at a nearby colocation facility. We didn’t have near enough capacity at the offsite facility to restore our critical systems. This was clearly less than ideal.

Working in IT Infrastructure, we often have to strive to have our best work go unnoticed. Our team could have implemented a robust disaster recovery program without anyone knowing it existed. That being said, it was clear we needed to focus on copying our systems and network to a geographically redundant data center.

We researched and tested solutions over the next few months. We felt we landed on a robust solution that would help our organization recover in the event of a serious issue. We felt the solution was pragmatic. We weren’t spending unnecessary funds but also weren’t cutting corners. Unfortunately, the solution still had a hefty price tag.

I had no idea how to sell this investment to our Executive Team. Even though we had a formal “project charter” process as a mechanism for this type of project, I wasn’t sure exactly to present it to the group. I started to put together a slide deck but didn’t feel great about it.

I ended up reaching out to my coworker Ben Burgett. Despite the fact that Ben worked in a completely different area of IT, he was always my primary sounding board for anything that was user-facing. Ben reviewed my pitch deck and tore it apart. He told me not to overthink it and just tell a story about how we discovered this problem, talked about our research and then presented our solution. If I used storytelling to make a compelling argument, nobody would bat an eyelash at the cost.

Ben also advised me to make the problem personal to the Executive Team. For example, how would this risk impact them if it came to fruition? He ended up advising me to tell a story about what would happen to the executives if we encountered a disaster TODAY and then what it would look like if we implemented our solution.

I ended up completely reworking the slide deck into something I felt confident in. I started my presentation by presenting a hypothetical disaster involving the destruction destroying our building and collocation. The “fake” disaster concluded with me calling the executive teams to notify them of the problem and state that I was not confident WHEN or IF we could bring our systems back online.

I quickly transitioned into talking about when we identified the problem and our research process for identifying a solution. We talked through different types of DR solutions and why we selected a “warm site” using cloud technologies. We also discussed our testing process and why we felt comfortable with the solution. As Ben predicted, by the time I got to the part of my presentation where I discussed the cost of the solution, nobody questioned the need to make the investment. The team began implementing the solution shortly thereafter.

Although Ben no longer works at IGS, I still pick his brain often about how to approach a particular situation and greatly appreciate all of his advice.

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