One of the most valuable things I have learned in my career is how to work with senior executives. So, I wanted to share with everybody today five rules for successfully engaging with senior executives to enhance your career. I share them because I have also learned that if you don’t deal with them correctly, you can endanger your career.
We see senior executives all the time, usually trying to get them to invest more resources in training and enhancing the Customer Experience. So here are the things we do to get what we want:
Rule #1: Have an opinion.
I tell my team they are paid for an opinion. Of course, the team’s view can differ from mine, but having one is essential.
Having an opinion is critical whether you are an employee or a consultant. It doesn’t enhance your career as an employee to avoid having a view. Too many people have already taken that route, so if you do as well, you won’t stand out. As a consultant, you not only should have an opinion, but you should also realize that your opinion is what the company bought. Without it, you are not keeping up your end of the bargain.
Organizations should be able to have a robust debate. That requires having an opinion and then having people test it or challenge it. Therefore, you not only need to have an idea, but you also need to articulate why you have it. Then, when you are discussing the issue and you hear that senior management does not agree, you can defend your position.
Moreover, senior executives’ time is valuable, and they don’t want you to waste it. So, you should be prepared to be challenged and have your opinion ready to make a good impression. (Here’s a hint: If you go in for an hour’s meeting and come out 15 minutes later without winning them over, you probably didn’t make a good impression.)
Rule #2: Remember that senior executives are human.
Some of you might be thinking, would I ever have thought they weren’t? Have the robots officially taken over? (They haven’t. Yet.) Let me explain.
Too many people are intimidated by titles.
Rule #2 addresses that intimidation by reminding you that you are talking to other people.
I understand that a title does indicate success, influence, and cleverness. However, it does not mean the possessor has superpowers.
We talk about emotions and the influence of principles in the behavioral sciences with the senior management teams. Few of them are well versed in these areas, which means we are challenging their thinking. In my experience, senior managers pick up these concepts quickly, which means they can challenge you quickly, too. Then the onus is on us to explain what we mean and convince them we can help.
However, there is a balance here. You don’t want to over-explain or condescend.
Remember that senior executives have a much more abstract view than their direct reports. They consider how your suggestion integrates into the larger company goals. If you’re not prepared to discuss your idea at that level, it won’t go over. You may have the most fabulous tactical plan in the world, and it’s just not going to resonate with them because they’re not interested in the details. They want to know, “how does this fit into the broader picture?”
Rule #3: Recognize that the higher you go, the simpler the questions become.
I ask senior executives three questions about their Customer Experience. They are:
- What’s the experience you are trying to deliver?
- What emotions are you trying to evoke in your customers?
- What drives value for your customers in your experience?
I discover that most organizations can’t articulate these things. Many times, the fact that senior management can’t answer them is the Aha! Moment I am looking to create. You can practically see the connections happening in the executive team’s brains before your eyes.
One of the techniques that we use when talking about an emotional experience is to ask them to connect the idea to their experiences as a customer. We have them describe the best experience they had and the worst one. Then, we ask them how they felt about it. Drawing upon their personal experience demonstrates what we are talking about with customer emotions and shows them the validity of our opinion.
You can also show them what you mean in their experience. For example, I was presenting to a board of a large shipping company once some calls we had recorded when we acted as a customer with their organization. After explaining customer emotions in experiences, I played one of these phone calls that was pretty frustrating. The board was squirming as they listened. Afterward, I asked, How do you think that call made me feel as a customer?
Of course, I already knew their answer; the squirming said it all.
Rule #4: Be concise
Senior executives make decisions fairly quickly. Be prepared for that and adapt to where the meeting goes. You might have a detailed presentation and 27 painstakingly constructed slides to go through, but they might not want to see that. The senior team might hear the first slide and be ready to cut to slide 28. It would be best to prepare for that.
You have two ears and one mouth, and you should use them in that ratio. So, if the senior managers interrupt your flow or change the conversation, you have to let them.
Listen to what they are saying and read the room. You might discover that they are highly engaged with your idea but have questions or opinions of their own. Be prepared to challenge that and bring them back to your flow.
Rule #5: Back up your argument with numbers and, ideally, ROI.
Senior executives will not invest in something unless it drives the numbers. So, you need to think of where the advantage lies in doing what you suggest and evaluate the effect these changes will have on the numbers, particularly the ROI.
Moreover, it would help to show them how you got to those numbers. (Helpful hint: senior managers can smell malarkey from miles away, so leave the fiction to your unpublished screenplay.)
For our global customer experience consultancy, we usually lead with our Emotional Signature® research. Our Emotional Signature research and related success stories prove the type of revenue possible by appealing to customers’ emotions. Sometimes these projections are in the millions, which gets the senior team’s attention.
In many ways, this last rule is another version of taking that person’s perspective you’re trying to convince. When you want someone to do something, focus on what matters to them.
And chances are, if it’s the senior team, the numbers matter to them.
To summarize, it comes down to the following. First, you have to have an opinion and one you can support because senior teams are always looking to challenge new ideas. Also, you have to remember that they are only other humans that have the same motivations as any person. In addition, remember that they have a different business view than you, where the questions are more strategic than tactical. Therefore, your message should reflect that. Moreover, that message should be concise, and you should be ready to engage in and adapt to the direction of the conversation.
Perhaps most importantly, you should remember what matters most to senior managers, which is the numbers unequivocally. Be sure that you know yours and how your idea moves them in the right direction—especially when that direction is one the manager can include in a positive quarterly report.
If you have a business problem that you would like some help with, contact me on LinkedIn or submit your pickle here. We would be glad to hear from you and help you with your challenges.
There you have it. No promotions, no gimmicks, just good information.
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