Tips for your trip to the C-suite
Consider these tips before making your high-stakes trip to talk to the CEO or other top executives:
• Communicate the way your audience communicates.
That advice means "you need to get to the end first, speak with clarity, live in strategic rather than tactical, ask for buy-in, and answer questions in the time it takes to walk across a room, not a state," says Leslie G. Ungar, author of Pragmatic Coaching for Dramatic Results in Akron, OH.
• Start with a one-sentence statement of the problem or issue and a one-sentence recommendation for remedy.
This sentence immediately gains attention and direction, says Linda D. Henman, PhD, president of the Henman Performance Group in Chesterfield, MO. The goal is to have senior leaders understand the issues and the consequences to different decisions. If risk managers lead with a win/lose mentality, they often lose and have their requests denied.
• Find out how your audience likes to receive information or conduct a meeting.
Knowing this information might require some pre-meeting reconnaissance by asking others who have met with the executive what is expected, says Billie Blair, PhD, an organizational psychologist and president/CEO of the international management consulting firm Change Strategists in Los Angeles. How sensitive is the executive to time constraints? Does he or she expect you to generally be wise about time usage, or does the executive routinely give people five minutes? Does the executive always ask for bullet points? Does he or she like or dislike multimedia? Is this executive someone who thrives on a significant amount of numbers and data points, or is this someone whose eyes glaze over when you throw a lot of data?
• End your talk gracefully.
Know how the CEO ends meetings, Blair advises. Watch for the cues, and know what they mean. Don’t override the CEO’s gesture. Sometimes it can be subtle, such as closing a notepad, but people who meet with him or her regularly will know, Blair says.
• Determine the tone of the meeting.
The risk manager needs to remember this meeting is not a chummy kind of meeting but rather a serious business encounter.
At the same time, however, Blair says you also should know if the CEO is the type who likes to start off with a little chat before getting down to business. If that is the case, you should know what interests him or her, such as golf, fishing, or traveling.
"The risk manager should not say anything that’s not true, like saying you’re an avid golfer if you’re not, but if there is some natural point that makes for an amiable chat, the risk manager should be prepared for that, but I emphasize only if the CEO starts off with a chat," Blair says. "Don’t go in thinking you’re going to start off asking about his golf game to break the ice. Let the CEO signal whether you’re starting off with some light talk."
• If you’re asked what time it is, don’t build a clock to demonstrate your answer.
Risk managers might be inclined to show their work and lead with a lengthy explanation of the issue at hand, says Greg Bustin, a leadership and strategic planning consultant in Dallas. Be aware of this tendency and resist it, he says. Just answer the question you were asked. If the CEO wants more background, he or she will ask for it.