by Robert Brands, CEO, innovation coach, and author of both “Robert’s Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival” and “Robert’s Rules of Innovation II: The Art of Implementation“
Mastering “CEO-speak” is one highly effective tool that can help innovators see their new ideas that they’ve researched and proposed actually acted upon by their company’s top management and most senior leaders — the C-suite. Also known as the “suits”, these senior leaders usually have many positive attributes, but as disenchanted innovators will often tell you — they also can have a difficult time pulling the trigger on a new, innovative idea or direction for the company.
So what exactly is CEO-speak? Quite simply, CEO-speak is the language of the C-suite executives. Mastery of this language is a pathway into their hearts and minds. Your abilities in this area can mean the difference between a home run and a strikeout.
Imagine this scenario: you’re about to step into the elusive executive conference room at your company to pitch your innovation to the bigwigs. You’re shaking in your boots/Air Jordans/freshly-shined brogues, your hands are clammy if not dripping wet, and your breakfast of innovation champions (three dopio espressos) is precariously churning in your stomach. You’ve put in the hard work, which likely was afterhours and off-the-clock. Your moment is now; don’t let it slip away.
How do you get your company to take action on your proposed idea or new direction and actually implement the innovation? One effective way to increase the chance of such follow-through and implementation is to master the language of CEO-speak in order to convince top management to support your innovation.
Here are some tips on how to speak their language:
Consider your timing.
As they say, timing is everything. You’ll have a better chance of success if your proposed innovation is in congruence with current organizational imperatives. It is prudent to propose an innovation that sharpens a CEO’s company visions or at least an element of the program that fits in with the CEO’s paradigm. For best results, you may need to sit on your idea until this occurs or tailor your idea so that it’s compatible with your company’s current business imperatives.
Instead of trying to sell your idea to the C-suite in a one-shot, intensely pressurized presentation to your bosses, you’re more likely to achieve success if you build organizational consensus well ahead of your “one-shot-is-all-you-got” pitch. You’ll want to garner support for your program from a wide array of your company’s internal constituencies. When you have sponsors from people who have different functions within your company, your idea will gradually build sensibility and create an air of inevitably in order to propel your project forward with a strong internal buffer zone intact.
Communicate clearly and regularly.
Once you’ve built your army of internal sponsors, you’re going to need to keep them in the loop. Share frequent progress reports on your project and invite your new internal stakeholders to gain an ownership interest in the program by inviting their participation when creating the completed plan.
Sure, you may be amped up for your project after gaining internal consensus and an involved sponsor network, but don’t get carried away. Show how your project aligns within your company’s current business imperatives, but don’t throw around hyperbolic and unrealistic metrics about revenue projections and market share. It’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver. Be patient. Embrace subtlety. This is the time to “run silent, run deep.”
The devil can sometimes be the details.
Sure, you may have crunched every number, analyzed every metric, and made countless spreadsheets and projections and growth charts. This thoroughness is undoubtedly important, but you don’t need to throw all this information out there the first time you pitch your presentation. Don’t get down to each nitty-gritty weed on every single tree, but rather focus on the forest instead. Details can cause paralyzing bottlenecks, so instead concentrate on a topline overview and show how your idea is in congruence with current corporate strategy.
Keep it short.
Your elevator pitch should be one to two minutes long, focusing on topline elements and not an avalanche of executional details and analytics. You want your presentation to be straightforward and easily understood by someone who is mainly concerned with the big-picture themes and has both limited time and a limited attention span. Come prepared with a list of thoughtful questions to ask and then open the meeting up to questions. Likewise, before the meeting, you should anticipate what tough questions you are likely to receive and come prepared with concise, non-defensive answers.
It’s not about you.
You don’t want your audience focusing on the presenter, no matter how brilliant and dynamic of a presenter and personality you may be. It’s not about you; rather, it’s about the purpose of your idea, how it aligns with the company’s strategic direction, and what it can ultimately do for the company.
Robert F. Brands is President and CEO of VariBlend Dual Dispensing and founder of Innovation Coach. Brands’ hands-on experience in bringing innovation to market spans decades, and includes the creation and improvement of product development processes and company culture. He has delivered on his pledge to bring “at least one new product per year to market”. He authored both “Robert’s Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival” and “Robert’s Rules of Innovation II: The Art of Implementation“.