From my experience, I know that chief executives are not the easiest persons to deal with. But you do need them as an authorizing and reinforcing driver behind the program during the complete life-cycle.
What’s more, they are your one and only point of reference in the organization when you are starting up. Therefore, it may be good to know what sets executives apart from other people in the organization. Here are four major differences:
1. Executives have attention spans comparable to that of a seven-year old; i. e., between 30 seconds and five minutes. This is because they operate in a world of continuous context-switching. Unfortunately for you, this enhances their ability to detect when you are beating about the bush. As a consequence, your communication towards them should be brief. According to Bill Jensen you should apply the following law when communicating to executives: “Anything that has a staple through it will not get read.”
2. Executives want to have a stake in the solution. They want to build up arguments, make decisions, take actions, and move on. That is what they are good at; otherwise they would not be in that position. In terms of your communication, this means that you should prepare for a conversation instead of a monologue. An executive who cares about the topic will interrupt with a question after approximately one minute of your monologue. As a result, you should be presenting facts and asking for opinions, or presenting alternatives and asking for pros and cons.
3. Executives hate surprises. Sponsors of the program hate to be surprised about the program in front of their colleagues. Therefore, you should have preliminary meetings with all the sponsoring board members before you present at an executive meeting. Ask for their input and view points upfront, and they will back you up and guide you during the meeting and the decision-making. True, this takes time and may add several iterations.
4. Numbers will only set you free to the extent that they support your arguments. You should only use statistics and numbers to the extent that they significantly support the arguments that you are making. Keep all the statistics as a backup for the conversation, and stick to the numbers they really need to know about.
Your awareness of these characteristics will determine how you approach the validation of the business case, the feasibility study, and the involvement of the program sponsors. The purpose of the above guidelines is to save you from coming out of an executive meeting with more questions than you had when you entered.