It’s true. Getting access to members of the C-suites is a challenge. Even being a successful mid-level executive doesn’t guarantee direct time with them. The easier option would be to spend time lamenting your fate. But imagine this: what if you bumped into a senior leader one day in the elevator or your office pantry and they asked, ‘Hey, how are things?’ What would you do with this chance, perhaps your only chance, to leave an impression?
Here’s where most people, my younger self included, get it wrong. They believe that offering every possible piece of information helps the C-suite to make an informed impression. The casual question is then answered with a list of achievements, a very condensed performance evaluation or the mountain of ideas the C-suite needs to know you have. What does this achieve? What will they remember from this short encounter, if anything at all?
Think about it: Why should they take the time to absorb all this information from someone they’ve just met or barely know? Would you do that if the tables were turned?
Take time to get clear on what it is you want to relay to the C-suite before you get two minutes with them. Pick one thing you want them to remember you for. Select one key finding you want to share and structure your presentation to support this. Yes, you may be doing a hundred other things. And yes, you may have analysed over 10 different scenarios to arrive at this insight you’re about to share. But so what?
The goal here is to occupy a small part of the C-suite’s brain by leaving an impression so that they associate this one chosen task, idea or value with you. What you say in the two minutes should support this.
Consider the business context the senior leader is receiving your information in. Perhaps your conversation starts at the end of a quarter and they have missed their targets. Perhaps tough staffing decisions need to be made soon. If you approach them with something that isn’t relevant to the outcomes they currently seek to drive, your work could be brilliant, could actually be extremely useful to the organisation and it wouldn’t matter. Simply because you got the timing and context completely wrong. Not only does your great piece of work get trashed, the C-suite might label you as someone who doesn’t have business sense. Or worse, someone to avoid.
One of the best ways around this is to think of the C-suite as an important client you’re looking to impress. Just as you would for your client, spend some time doing research to understand what they value, what they loathe, what their priorities are. You can then personalise your message to show them how you can help them to drive their desired outcomes. And be assured that you aren’t wasting rare opportunities with bad timing.
If there comes a point in the discussion where a senior leader asks a question and you respond ‘I’ll come back to you,” do just that. Make this part of your to do list so that it isn’t overlooked in your frenzied work day. If it’s something you’ve promised, close the loop. These things get noticed.
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CMO & Strategy Leader