The word was that a corporate president I worked closely with would say no three times before he seriously considered a new proposal from his staff. That wasn’t always true of him, but I did learn not to give up after his first no. It also taught me to check my facts, my understanding, and my conviction before I brought a suggestion to him. The process improved my skills at presenting to corporate staff. Here’s what I learned.
I learned, after a few off-the-cuff presentations, that to have any chance at approval for my concept I needed to come prepared. I’m a verbal processor; the president wasn’t, I’d excitedly come to him with a half-baked idea, which he’d rip apart by asking questions to which I had no answer. I learned the importance of constructing a well thought out, fact based, plan before I went to him.
Know Your Audience
Before presenting an idea to the C- staff—know your players. How do they process information, how do they communicate, and how do they learn? That’s not as difficult as it might sound. To begin with, observe their preferences. For example, do they appreciate a face-to-face conversation or prefer an email? The best way to learn is to ask them. Do they want a power point presentation on the topic or would they rather have a written document to peruse? And what are their anchor business beliefs? If you’re uncertain—ask.
Learn from the Past
I learned a huge lesson with the three times no president. Early in our work together I ruined any chance of gaining approval on an idea by being unprepared. Of course, in my mind, it was his rigidity that destroyed my plan. At times it even became contentious between he and I until I looked at what had previously worked and what hadn’t worked’ and then applied that knowledge to future efforts.
Pick Your Time
I learned there were opportune and inopportune times to approach the president with new ideas. Never on Monday. Monday was staff day, and we held three. He passionately participated in all three. I never went to him when he was in the middle of solving a problem or if business was down. I waited until the time was right, business was good, and I had a solution to a problem.
Don’t Fight Small Battles
Okay, so I won a few small battles with the president, but did they take away from bigger issues? Were we keeping score? We didn’t have a lighted scoreboard, but there was a score. If in no other way than the amount of time he had available to hear me out.
Know Your Objectives
If you’re uncertain as to your goals, as well as the outcome you expect from your initiative, how will you convince anyone else, especially corporate staff to give you the go ahead? Your objective can’t be an ambiguous “it will help” or “we’ll do better” It needs to be specific and measurable. How will it help? In what way will we do better?
I was working with an HR manager who was committed to employee wellness programs. However, not everyone on the corporate staff was convinced of its usefulness. Some members of the staff didn’t buy into the need for a wellness programs. Their opinion was it was merely for the employee with little or no benefit to the organization; therefore, it was wasteful to commit resources to the program. The HR manager showed the staff how a wellness program affected the bottom line by reducing insurance costs. Numbers speak.
Be a Business Person
Regardless of how passionate you are about your idea, leave your emotions at the door. There’s nothing wrong with sharing your convictions but do so in a professional and businesslike manner.
Keep the Door Ajar
As I learned, the first no isn’t always the last. Even if the idea is initially rejected, leave the door open for a future revisit. If it’s turned down, politely accept the decision and mention you’d like to look at it again as circumstances change and evolve.
Perfect Your Pitch Before You Take it to the Corporate Staff
Presenting ideas to the C-staff is a sales pitch, and like any sales pitch, it needs to be geared toward the customer—in this case, the C-staff. How do they want information shared, what is important to them, and what benefits does your idea bring to the organization? Before you run head-long to the CEO’s office, have a plan.