Getting ‘executive buy in’ is one of the most commonly discussed factors which ultimately affects the success, or otherwise, of a project.
How can the message be put across effectively when finally the doors to the ‘C- suite’ open, and we are ushered in to meet the ‘very important top officer’? Paul Rogers identifies some do’s and don’ts of communicating with Senior Managers.
All Managers have different decision-making styles, but what they all have in common is that the more senior the manager, the more likely they will want you to not only describe the issue, but also suggest some ideas, solutions or proposals to address it. Effectively, they don’t want to be given the problem without also being given the solution!
How does one best manage a face-to-face pitch to a Senior Manager or gain their support for a proposed course of action? I will use the mnemonic ‘PROPOSAL’ to examine the various phases of such a meeting:
Purpose: Why do you need to address the manager?
Reservation: How much time do you need and when?
Opening: What’s ‘the big picture’ and how can we capture attention?
Problem: What is the compelling event that requires action?
Opportunity: What could we do differently? What is the payback?
Solution: What is the end-game, what do you recommend and why?
Action: What are the next steps and what do you want the manager to do?
Licence: What mandate have you got, and what involvement does the manager want?
What do you want this Manager to do and why? If you can’t answer these questions, you won’t get past the gatekeepers who protect the Manager’s schedule. Typically it’s to:
- Endorse or champion the initiative.
- Allocate resources [time, money, people] to the new project.
- Make a decision about a business matter.
Be clear about what you want this Manager to do, and also be prepared to answer the question ‘Why are you asking me?’
Indeed, why can’t the issue be dealt with by someone else or better still, by an existing forum? Possible responses to these questions could include:
- The project value lies above other Manager’s approval limits.
- The project changes “business as usual” and needs to align with other corporate or strategic initiatives.
- There may be future implications in terms of cost or risk that need to be shared with Senior
Reservation has two possible meanings:
- The person has doubts about what they are hearing.
- The scheduling of time in someone’s diary.
To address any reluctance by the gatekeepers i.e. other Managers or Personal Assistants who control access to the Senior Manager’s diary – consider the following tips:
- Use your Manager as the contact person so that there is clear evidence of managerial support for your cause.
- Talk to the gatekeeper face-to-face; it is far easier to decline a request by telephone or email.
- Be clear about how much time you need; 15 minutes is too short & will seem trivial whereas 45 – 60 minutes should maximise your chances for being taken seriously.
- Make sure you explain what you want and why it has to be that Senior Manager.
When you get your face- to-face meeting, you wade through the deep-pile carpet and sit down with 45 minutes to make your case, right? Wrong! If you haven’t made an impact in the first 5 minutes, you can expect the attention of everyone in the room to wander elsewhere. In order to maximise your impact:
- Dress like you expect to be take seriously
- State the purpose for the meeting clearly and confidently.
It is said that you never get a second chance to make a first impression:
- Don’t use jargon, abbreviations or ‘procurementspeak’ e.g. ‘RFP’
- Don’t give a history lesson but avoid diving into the detail without a concise preamble to establish context.
- Do quote numbers by rounding up or down to the nearest large number, e.g.$2,475,234 becomes ‘nearly two and a half million dollars’.
- Do allow ten minutes per visual aid, rather than the usual three or four minutes used when presenting. Allow time to talk and discuss what is being seen, rather than delivering a monologue.
The structure of your presentation should adhere to the following principles:
- What is the problem or opportunity being faced?
- What is the target or proposed solution?
- What is the plan to get to there?
Do Senior Managers want to hear about problems?
If an early warning means something can be done to reduce the impact of the problem, the resounding answer will be ‘Yes!’ If the problem is being given to the Manager, and it has the added potential to make them look bad, then the unanimous answer will be ‘No!’ Aim to ensure that the attention of the executive is grabbed with numbers or a realistic assessment of the impact of the problem on the business. Be realistic about why the problem has occurred without placing blame on others.
Everyone likes the chance to be a hero.
Taking advantage of opportunities is usually good news. But all businesses have been burned by investments which didn’t quite deliver what was in the business case, so be conservative about proposed benefits, and realistic about potential barriers
Choices are empowering.
It is a good idea to give the Manager more than one option to consider, alongside your own recommendation, as to which option you prefer and why. Describe the end-game, what you are targeting in terms of business outcomes, and why it is a good idea.
Address what needs to happen in broad terms, and what you want the Executive to do in specific terms. Reference who else will be involved and state how the plan will reduce any risk or personal exposure that may be involved for the Executive. Be clear about what is required of them; support, money, time, people, or amended priorities?
What happens now? Do you want a licence to act, or do you want the Manager to act? Typically the Manager now has to decide whether to:
- Seek more information. Decline your recommendation.
- Support your recommendation albeit with amendments.
- Support your recommendation as proposed.
Make sure that you are clear about what sort of licence you want, and what sort of licence you have been given.
During his term in office, President Ronald Reagan insisted that all issues being presented to him, be distilled on to a single piece of paper. If White House officials could distil the World’s most complex problems and issues onto one piece of paper, there should be no reason why your proposal cannot be tight, brief and focused. Good luck!