February 27, 2014

How to talk to your CEO …

Man waiting with a briefcase

How easy is it to get to talk with your CEO or board directors? If you’re like most people in medium to large corporates you won’t have clear access to the majority of the senior leaders. And to some extent it has to be like that. Heirarchy’s are not there for the vanity of the directors, but to protect their time so they can think and deliver in ways only they can do.

We’ve all heard the water cooler chat about ‘they should stop spending money on the marketing and spend more on the product’ or ‘if I was running this show I’d never pay those contractors to be on call – save the money and hire some permanent staff’ – the expert opinion of those not in the know.

However, sometimes there can be priceless feedback from employees –  and that different business angle from a new view point can be insightful, simple and financially rewarding to a company. How does that employee get their idea from their head, up 4 levels of management and still have their concept be as authentically represented as when they thought it up? Plus, how do they ensure the acknowledgement of the idea comes back to them and doesn’t get allocated to a career-hungry senior manager somewhere up the line?

So there are a few things that probably need to be in place to get your ideas to your CEO. Your success with this might well be influenced by:

  • the size and culture of your company
  • the professionalism of your manager (and therefore his/her ability to influence)
  • your capacity to grasp the big picture within which your idea sits (especially if your company owns many brands or has a number of different products or services)

Here are 5 ways to get your idea to the CEO:

  • Write the concept down and email it to a colleague or a friend so that there’s written confirmation that the idea originated with you
  • It’s always a right first steps to talk with your manager and ask him or her for their feedback and whether they think the idea has value enough to go to whatever height of leadership has the decision making power. This may be all that’s needed and once progress is made, or the idea adopted, the acknowledgement comes straight back to you
  • You can email or phone the CEO’s assistant and ask what whether you can have some time in the diary. Be prepared to explain what it’s for as it’s a PA (or EA)’s job to gate-keep for their boss and to make a first judgement as to whether this will be a valuable use of their time. If that answer is to send something to the PA first so she/he can review it, by all means do that then follow up in a day or two to check what he next step might be.
  • When you get time with your CEO, make sure you’re prepared. Your conversation may make a lot of sense to you and you may be very passionate about the area of the company in which you work. The Chief’s job though contains a responsibility for every employee within the organisation, plus the production and delivery of the product and service of your company, and the satisfaction of the clients who access those products and services. Her (or his) time is precious so you must know your information and how to answer reasonable questions around it.
  • Relax. Remember that the CEO has work his or her way to where they are with victories and challenges along the way in the same way that you’ve had those. You’ve got the meeting because it sounded like it was worthwhile so be yourself and speak from the heart.

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