3.3 Persuading Executive Managers
There are certainly times when you will bump in to your senior management in the hallway, or the parking lots, elevator, maybe, and then you may build some kind of rapport with them. A long time ago, when I was brand new computer programmer, when our company vice president came to me to create some sales reports, okay. If you are invited to present your opinion or to make a case about a specific idea or strategy you are most likely building on your expertise and your professional relationships.
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Margaret Maloney here and welcome to how to persuade your executives. Together we are going to consider some of the approaches you can use to convince your senior management the ideas that you are presenting is worthy of their time and their consideration. The truth is, your ability to persuade your executive begins before you ever really meet with them for a face to face. Why is this true? Because most times, before you meet them, before you’re allowed to speak to them, somebody has already told them about you. You come recommended. Now what does this mean? It means that, frequently, your executive team will already know a bit about you before you enter any kind of discussion with them. And the reason they know about you is because they have seen you work or they have heard about you or they know about you from your boss and others. So in a sense you are what we call pre-screened. Now is this always true? No. There are certainly times when you will bump in to your senior management in the hallway, or the parking lots, elevator, maybe, and then you may build some kind of rapport with them. A long time ago, when I was brand new computer programmer, when our company vice president came to me to create some sales reports, okay. I had no clue who he was, and it turns out that I had created similar reports for another vice president. Well, the next thing I knew, I became the go to resource for this specific vice president. Turns out he was one of the most powerful executives in the company. And I had no idea. Of course this created a fun and interesting position for me, and also, some political issues. My boss was never very comfortable with me having this direct working relationship with the vice president. And there are certainly many lessons from this experience. But one that I really like to emphasize right now is that it’s really good for you to know who your executives are. Because they just might know who you are. In this instance, the vice president trusted me, because I was recommended to him by one of his peers. And this gave me credibility. So if you want to persuade your senior management you need credibility. And your credibility comes from your expertise and your relationships. If you are invited to present your opinion or to make a case about a specific idea or strategy you are most likely building on your expertise and your professional relationships. You are part of the way toward influencing your executives. Most of the time you’re going to be able to prepare for your discussion or presentation with your senior management. Use this time wisely. And learn what you can about your audience. Make sure you are bringing the information that you have been asked to bring. And that you will take the time alloted and only the time alloted. Be prepared to speak more or if you are asked to cut your presentation, make sure you know where to make cuts, so that you know the most important points that you are going to present. As you prepare to persuade your senior management, think about how you are going to frame the discussion. You cannot control what they say and do, but you can guide the discussion. Use product and/or process knowledge to help. What this means is you’re building on your expertise and you are presenting facts about the issue at hand. And more specifically this means that you are able to quickly point out the benefits of your approach. When you can quantify those benefits, and be able to back up your numbers, now you’re speaking the language of most of the executives in the room. Do not say this will make a lot of customers happy. Do say, this will improve the product experience for 45% of our customer base in the 18 to 25 year old age range segment, and it will not degrade the experience for those outside this segment. Of course, this only makes sense if you’re 18 to 25 year old age segment is significant to your product. Do your research. But do not just report dry numbers using charts, and especially do not tell them information that they already know. If you need to use commonly known facts and figures, move quickly to why you are drawing upon these facts and figures. In other words, why should they care, why should they care now, and how does this make your case? So hint, make sure it really does support your case. One way to say this is to provide vivid evidence, or you might also say, compelling. Make it memorable. A presentation I recently saw on comparing pay rates across two different groups, made a compelling case by showing the statistic, and then showing pictures of the people impacted. But what really made it impactful is that if one person made only 50% of another, only half of that person’s picture was displayed. And if another person made a 117% more, then the picture that was displayed was altered to be 117% more of a human being, perhaps with extra fingers or hands or legs. You see that I remember that presentation and the point that it was making. Most of the time it doesn’t hurt to make an emotional connection. The presentation I just described to you, used pictures of people that many of us would recognize, and that really helped to bring the point home. Even though you are often told just use the facts, your senior executives are human beings, and it is okay for them to see that you feel strongly about something. It is okay for you to appeal to their emotions, it’s about how you do it. And you do it using strong evidence and verifiable facts. And during your presentation or discussion, keep a watchful eye on the room. And if you detect a change in the emotional landscape, adjust your approach accordingly. For example, if you are very animated and talking loudly and you see that some people are frowning or leaning back, you might lower your voice a bit. This is definitely a time where emotional intelligence will come in handy. And remember all of the tips that we have discussed need to be weighed against what you know about your senior management team and your corporate culture. It’s important to understand what is acceptable and what is not. Some senior managers invite debate. Some do not. It never hurts to have a mentor who can give you some tips. And that brings us to expertise and relationships once again. Before we go, a reminder. When you are seeking to persuade at your senior management, remember that you really draw from credibility, and this comes from relationships and expertise. Product and process knowledge to frame the benefits of your position or suggestion. Vivid evidence which is memorable and supports your case. An emotional connection shows that you feel and that you’re trying to get them to feel too. And of course just like all of our other communication skills practice makes perfect.
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