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Connecting with the CEO

Let me tell you a story. A while back, I made a presentation to a professional risk managers’ association. It went pretty well and the chairman asked me to sit with him for lunch. There was something he wanted to talk about.

So over conference chicken, he told me he was having problems getting the attention of the CEO. The CEO said he believed in and supported risk management, but he never seemed to give my new friend much time and didn’t want to listen to his reports or discuss the risk map.

After listening to a few minutes of the story I realized I could understand the problem. I didn’t want to listen to this guy either. He was boring! Oh he had passion, but his language was technical (how the CEO didn’t appreciate the sophistication of the models) and his charisma was definitely spelled with a small ’c’.

My new close friend had risen to his position as an executive responsible for enterprise-wide risk management from a career as a technician. He had yet to change his presentation and presence to that of a business executive.

His is not an uncommon problem, as CROs are often minted from experienced insurance buyers, internal auditors, actuaries, safety engineers, etc.

So here are my tips for connecting with the CEO (which apply to board directors and other executives):

1. Talk to the CEO in her language, the language of the business. Explain how the business is affected rather than how you used Monte Carlo simulation to determine how best to respond to a risk that now exceeded approved criteria.

2. Check your attitude and focus. Are you working to help management run the business and optimize performance, or are you looking at what could go wrong and ensuring precautions are in place? Are you a business manager that holds the position of CRO? If you don’t believe and act as if you are trying to help the organization succeed, why should the CEO think you are on his team as an enabler of intelligent decisions that drive results instead of a check-the-box compliance expense?

3. Get to the point. Of course, you have to know what needs to be said first, but then say it and move on. CEOs have the attention span of gnats except when something needs their attention. If it does need their full attention, known their hot buttons and push them.

4. Don’t do PowerPoint presentations when a single page or diagram gets the job done. Eliminate the trivial information so that the CEO can see with clarity the points that matter.

5. The best way to get the respect of the CEO is by demonstrating to her team that you are helping them in a massive way. It doesn’t matter if you are not showing the CEO herself how great you are. In fact it’s better if you are working in close partnership with her direct reports. If she hears from a few of them that your information and advice helped them succeed on their projects and key decisions, she will want to listen.

6. Get training. ”Dealing with difficult people” is a valuable course, and you can always benefits from presentation skills training.

So what do you think? Do you agree? What other advice would you give to a new CRO, CAE, etc?

  1. gabriel
    April 27, 2012 at 11:48 AM

    Very good story. Thanks

  2. April 27, 2012 at 12:41 PM

    All good points.

  3. Malcolm Zack
    April 28, 2012 at 3:03 PM

    I used to report to a CEO who was very supportive of internal audit and would wander into my office from time to time and just say” well Malcolm what’s going on?”. He knew full well what was happening but I’d have about a minute to respond. I learnt to provide him with 2 or 3 summary points; my major concern at the moment, a recent success by management and an upcoming audit. Personally Im pretty sure he knew most if it anyway but it kept the engagement going. He always thanked me or asked for something to be done. A clear minute or two with the CEO can be worth 30 with their Directs.

  4. fatima bahar
    April 30, 2012 at 4:08 AM

    it is very good story and all points mentioned were very good tips to deal with this issue. I would like to emphasis on one point which is presentation skills. I consider it as one of the powerfull tool to achieve your target. beside ” how to deal with difficult people” course is good idea but this lies also in practice. good luck

  5. Murthy B
    April 30, 2012 at 9:43 PM

    very good one. thanks

  6. May 3, 2012 at 3:17 PM

    Good stuff.
    No doubt that a CEO and his/her direct reports are key stakeholders to deliver value to..
    No doubt also that being logically right / demonstrating rigour and being detailed might work for some, but probably not the vast majority of CEOs ~ who are likely to be “big picture” people….
    Worth asking yourself whether you have properly understood and validated what they need and prioritised this (the lean Kano model can be very helpful)
    Probably much more important to understand what these top stakeholders want and need than some of the lower level line managers we might want to “help” during our audits, (but which might be substituting/covering over line management issues)..
    Building on the training idea, I often suggest that CAEs get coaching / support on key meetings with such stakeholders to help them deepen their appreciation of what will/wont work (which is a dynamic thing)

  7. Raviprakash Deora
    May 9, 2012 at 12:00 AM

    Really good and useful points

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