The Connection Magazine AIM MUTUAL Fall 2019 - Page 10

TALK TO CEOS How To COMMUNICATE WITH CEOs And Other TOP EXECUTIVES BY DR. BRAD SMART HAVING INTERVIEWED over 6,000 candidates for jobs reporting to CEOs, and having coached the candidates who were hired, I kinda know what ticks CEOs off day in and day out – and one thing is how people communicate with them. This article spells out three of the most irritating ways people communicate with CEOs and, frankly, with all high-level managers. To make this article less wordy I’ll refer to communicating with CEOs, but the points pertain to everyone who communicates with any high powered executive. Communications Irritant No.1: “It depends.” It drives CEOs nuts when they ask a question and the response is “it depends.” Of course it depends. Anyone can say “it depends” as a response to just about any question — what’s the weather going to be like, who do you think will win the ball game, what do you want to be doing in five years, will the strategy work? “It depends” is usually a stalling technique for people who either don’t know the answer or don’t want to tell the truth for fear the CEO will criticize them. CEO: “What do sales look like for the second quarter?” A: “It depends on how much confidence there is in the pipeline.” CEO: “Of course it does, I just want to know what your best guess is for Q2 sales, given how we estimate pipeline probability.” The CEO is thinking: Quit avoiding my question – just answer it! A better answer would be, “My best guess is $35 million for the second quarter, which of course comes with some important assumptions.” If the CEO wants more of an explanation of the assumptions, wait to be asked. Communications Irritant No.2: “Let me explain how to build a watch.” The metaphor is this: When a CEO asks what time it is, don’t explain how to build a watch. This is related to No.1, but a bit different. The CEO asks a question and the subordinate is fearful that a direct answer will be rejected, so the temptation might be to respond, “It depends.” An alternative way to beat around the bush is to build a case for the answer using a wordy rationale first (explaining how to build a watch), before finally answering the question. But that will irritate most CEOs, who don’t like waiting, waiting, waiting for the answer. CEO: “What do sales look like for the second quarter?” A: “Well, it looks like the economy will grow at 3 percent, our top two competitors have new products that will eat into our sales, offsetting our 20 percent revenue growth projection and I hear Pat, our top sales rep, is looking for another job. Add to that our faltering international strategy, blah, blah.” 10 The CEO is apt to say, “Stop with the long answer – just answer my question.” If the subordinate asks, “I’m sorry, what was your question?” you know the CEO will be even more irritated. Here’s some advice for Human Resources or any interviewers of candidates for jobs reporting to the CEO: Watch out for these irritants! As a professional interviewer I ask, metaphorically, what time it is and when interviewees respond by saying “It depends” or by telling me how to “build a watch,” I cut them off: “Joe, please just give me the answer, and based on that answer if I want a longer explanation, I’ll ask for it.” A players get the hint, C players don’t; so I’ll give them one more chance: “Joe, the CEO insists that when she asks a question, people answer directly and not build a wordy case for the answer first. I’ve asked you to answer me directly and sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t, but so I can judge whether you and the CEO would get along, please listen carefully to my questions and answer more directly for the rest of this interview.” Communication Irritant No.3: “I wanted to solve the problem before worrying you with it.” Why would anyone hide crucial information from the CEO? Simple — they know the CEO will blast them with questions: “Why didn’t you anticipate this? Why didn’t you do A, B, and C to prevent it? Why haven’t you done X, Y, and Z to fix it?”