What to Say (Part II)

Our last post advised that you to avoid words like training and learner when talking with senior executives. Now let’s turn to what you should be talking about.

Speak the language of business. Couch whatever you’re proposing as a way to save time, increase revenue, cut costs, or improve efficiency. The way to “gain a seat at the table” is to walk like a business pro, talk like a business pro, and be a business pro.

Make business metrics your yardstick for success. Show how your initiative is going to:

  • Make the sales force productive sooner.
  • Implement strategic initiatives.
  • Educate customers online.
  • Increase reach into new markets.
  • Decrease staff turnover.
  • Reduce cycle time.
  • Lift employee engagement
  • Roll out enterprise processes.
  • Speed up time-to-market.
  • Keep partners in sync.
  • Merge organizations effectively.
  • Keep up with a gusher of new products.
  • Improve the productivity of channel partners.
  • Build customer communities.

Be prepared to describe potential results in both words and numbers. Stories and anecdotes have more staying power than statistics.

Don’t shy away from numbers. You should be able to justify estimates by stating your underlying assumptions, your logic, and the probabilities you assume. This is basic decision science.

As we discussed in the last blog post, don’t talk about training. Talk about performance, profit, time-to-market, and readiness.

Get the Core Group on your side

Almost every large organization has a powerful group whose support you need to get anything done. The Core Group, called out by Art Kleiner (Who Really Matters, 2003) does not appear on the org chart and does not have official status. Some members have big titles; all have respect. Essentially, the organization loves the Core Group and the Core Group reveres and protects the organization.

The standard description of the elevator pitch gives you two uninterrupted minutes to make your case to the CEO. This doesn’t happen very often. You’re much more likely to find yourself next to a member of the Core Group in the cafeteria. This is your opportunity to gain support and expand your practice.

You need the support of the Core Group to avoid getting bushwhacked when the budget axe comes out of the closet during economic downturns. These are the “boys in the back room” who decide what’s expendable. You need them on your side.

Tell a story but leave it open-ended so they’ll come back for more. Here’s an example:

“We’ve come up with a simple network that could free up more than 10,000 billable hours a year among our systems engineers. That’s about $30 in incremental revenue. Our investment would be minimal.”

“It’s something we might provide to customers down the road.”

“Can I get your support on fleshing out the concept?”

Hitch a ride on the corporate bandwagon

CEOs weren’t always celebrities, and even today a handful of them draw reasonable salaries and put their pants on like the rest of us. However, more often than not, today’s chief executives are out for a lot more than incremental improvement. They want to transform their companies, to enter new businesses, and to hitch their wagons to shooting stars.

CEOs know they have to do something significant and flashy or they will soon be out of a job. The average tenure of a CEO has dropped to six and a half-years.

IBM interviews CEOs globally every couple of years. This year, CEOs are empowering employees through values, creating more open and collaborative cultures, and continuing to innovate with customers. They look to move into other industries or invent entirely new ones.

This is anything but “business as usual.” This is more “let’s be in a different business.”

When your organization engages in deep, significant change, hop on the bandwagon. Find a way to connect what you can put together with the direction of the change initiative. Get swept up and ride the inevitable tidal wave. You’ll rise rapidly. Eventually you’ll crash — but it will be to a perch that’s higher than the one you started from. Go with the flow.

Make no little plans

Sponsors don’t usually back a project unless its economics are so compelling that they can do the math on the back of an envelope. If the odds are good that I’ll get $750,000 in benefits from my $75,000 investment, I don’t need four-place accuracy to decide to spend the money. This is business, not a science experiment. As a Fortune 50 company official recently told me, “We manage this place with sound bites.”

What if the benefits of your proposal are not obviously compelling? Pick another project. The returns on an investment in performance improvement can be astounding. Pick one of those. An astute businessperson seeks the most lucrative balance of risk and reward.

Don’t settle for mediocrity. Fortune favors the bold.

“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood…Make big plans, aim high in hope and work.” (Daniel Burnham, US architect & city planner (1846 – 1912) )