The Executive Whisperer
Updated: Jun 13, 2021
You finally got a meeting set up with the senior execs, what will you say to move your effort forward? How do you get executive support?
I call it “the Executive whisperer”, those who can quickly connect with an executive. What’s the secret?
Speak the Language of Money. “This will be better, faster, more employee engagement.” When I have spoken to executives like this, I get head nods, but not decisions. We’re not talking greed here, we’re talking about economics.
“When you speak in the language of money, decisions are fast and enthusiastic.”
Some executives can make the connection between abstract ideas and economics, but many can’t. And even when they can make the connection, they can’t prioritize them.
It’s hard to put numbers on these improvements. Start by at least asking what the number might be. Ex. How much is it worth to deliver this one day sooner? How much would you invest to get it sooner?
You are helping them meet their goals. “What can I say so that they’ll support me?” I hear this from people all the time. Just so we’re clear, are you saying that the execs have set a goal and now you have to ask permission to let you meet their goal? Something is screwy here.
Walk-in with the assumption that they want to hear what you have to say. Frame the discussion as “you’ve set this goal, here’s how I can help you.” It’s a power position. They need you. The moment you go in begging and asking permission you’ve given away your power.
Talk like a peer. It’s hard, I know. There’s a ton of pressure when you go into an executive meeting. But you’ve got to be able to talk like a person, like a peer. That means you need to be able to interrupt, push back and do all the things you would do if you were with your peers. Be direct and honest. Don’t be stiff. I mean it, don’t be stiff.
Why would I do that? Isn’t it risky? As an exec, if I’m going to invest in you, and trust you, I need to know that you are going to steer me right. If you are bending to pressure, I can’t feel confident that you’ll stand up to me or others who exert pressure on you. When you stand strong, it makes me feel like you are grounded in the best interest of the company.
Be clear about what support looks like. Go in with a clear intention of what you want the outcome to be. Execs are short on time, and a ton of ideas pass their way. If they want to support you, what do they need to do? Is it budget? Is it vocal support? Do you need their time?
See past stupid comments. I’m just gonna call this one out here. Sometimes when people don’t know what to say they feel the need to say something. “Hey, that slide would be better if it was blue.” Do not be tempted to make the slide blue or to discuss your color choices! Stupid comments are a signal that they missed your message. Try again. “Blue is a great color. And did you notice where it says you can save $20M? I’m curious about your reaction to that?”
Brain Twist. If you are fortunate to have an executive meeting in your near future, find someone to pair with to review your plan using the ideas laid out here. If you don’t have a meeting in your near future, perhaps offer help to someone who does so you can practice and be ready when the time comes.