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How To Get Senior Management Buy-In
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By Estelle Metayer

When clients and executives ask me how to gain top management attention, I usually make a simple comparison: CEOs or top managers are like little boys: to attract their attention, you have to wave a fire truck in front of them, and if you ask them if they prefer A or B, they´ll say "both."
These two examples illustrate how difficult it can be to please your senior management. However, some competitive intelligence analysts seem to get it: the door of the CEO´s office is always open for them, he or she returns their phone calls, reads the e-mails they send, acts upon their recommendations, and the analysts do not seem to have any difficulty in getting their budget approved. What is the recipe?

The following article will highlight 9 steps to gain senior management buy-in:

  • Deliver
  • Over-deliver
  • Be concise
  • Go for it
  • Bring facts, not anecdotes
  • Avoid surprises
  • Have an answer, always
  • Help in all aspects of their role
  • Beware of their ego
Deliver
The first rule to obtain senior management buy-in and to gain credibility is to deliver on the three dimensions: quality, time and format. Quality means your end product - a report, a presentation or recommendations - have to match expectations, that the numbers have to be verified and be correct, and that you are answering the questions. Time means you do not miss a deadline. Format means if you are to provide a one-page summary, you should stick with your commitment instead of producing a 15-page document.

How can you do this concretely?

Never let your internal client down, even if this means staying late at night. It should not become a habit, but the senior management needs to know they can count on you.

If you have been overoptimistic with the time it would take to complete the analysis, make sure you still bring in insights at the time that you committed to. You can always provide more details later. Consultants refer to this as the 80/20 rule: you can provide 80% of the insight within 20% of the time allotted.

If you feel you will miss the deadline, do not let it pass without discussing it with senior management in advance as soon as you know there is going to be a delay.

Over-deliver
Try to go beyond what has been requested. This is what makes the difference between a good analyst, and an analyst who will quickly move to more responsibilities. What you want to achieve is to surprise senior management by bringing in a more complete answer than what they were expecting.

How can you do this concretely?

If you are asked to pull out a document in its raw format (an annual report, for example), save them time by synthesizing the key points.

When communicating a press release, also add other relevant articles or documents that validate, or contradict, what the press release says.

If you are asked to do a company profile, add recommendations or alternative courses of action. Interview a few customers or suppliers, and add their feedback to the profile.

Be concise
Do you know the expression "If I had more time, it would be shorter?" It is much harder to write a short recommendation than a long one, and this is why you want to aim for it.

How can you do this concretely?

Use the pyramid principle: Always put the conclusions, or the insights, first in your document. This will allow a reader who does not have a lot of time to get the highlights very rapidly.

When writing a PowerPoint presentation, put the key message in the title of the chart, rather than a generic title: for example, replace "Market size by continent" with "North America is the largest market for our company." It will allow a reader to more rapidly capture the key elements of a presentation.

Use post-it notes. Procter & Gamble was famous at one point for requesting from employees memos of no more than one page. Senior management often does not even have the time to read one page. Summarize key insights into three our four bullet points on a post-it note, this is a powerful way to attract attention. Use bright colors for those notes: they will become your signatures and senior management will learn to recognize them.

Never, ever send a document without adding what you feel is important in it: in an article, use a highlighter to show key points, in a long document, bookmark the relevant ogees, add an executive summary in front of a market research, etc.

When you meet with senior management, only have one item on the agenda. They get easily distracted.

Go for it
I have often seen the best CI analysts taking risks ... and being rewarded for it. These risks could range from asking to be present at board meetings, or at senior management meetings (it is not unusual to see even a fairly junior CI analyst being the only person in the room below the rank of Vice-president), or bringing to the table facts contradicting common wisdom. In fact, a little provocation, especially at the beginning of your mandate will often create the right tone.

How can you do this concretely?

Be blunt: give it a try. If you disagree on a conclusion, and have the back-up to prove your point, send the information or sit with management to share your insights.

Practice the open-door policy: request a short meeting to share a point.

Ask to participate in those key meetings: often senior management would not even have thought about it.

Know that you are management´s "check and balance": therefore in key decisions, your insight is invaluable.

Provide analysis on an upcoming decision even if this has not been asked: being proactive will pay off. This will mean you think very hard about what decisions senior management is about to take.

Bring facts, not anecdotes
This is your secret weapon: bringing in irrefutable facts is the key to success. You have to become the guardian of facts, the only person in the room who does not make decisions based on anecdotes. If you stick to the facts, there is little chance people can contradict you.

How can you do this concretely?

Do not start a sentence with "I think" or "I heard." Instead, start by stating the facts behind what you are saying: "Facts show that, etc."

Always check numbers you communicate: are they consistent with numbers you gave before? If not, what has happened? Too often, a great analysis loses all its value because one little number was incorrect.

Highlight contradicting numbers.

Carefully check your sources and highlight in advance those that might be less reliable.

Avoid surprises
If you have to remember one aspect about CEOs, it is that they hate surprises. The CEO wants to be the first to know any major new development in the company´s environment, but often, people in the field know it first. For example, new contracts awarded get announced to the sale team before a press release goes out. The challenge is then for you, as a CI analyst to find where you can add value. The second challenge is to be able to alert senior management of the likelihood of an event before it happens.

How can you do this concretely?

If you cannot be the first to make the announcement, focus on being the first to provide the analysis and the facts.

Look for weak signals. A scenario planning exercise can often help you map out what signals you could be looking for. Otherwise, keep your eyes and ears open and check for new patterns.

Make sure you speak to industry experts regularly. Some analysts schedule some time each week to network and grab the latest trends. You could even dedicate half a day or a day each week for that purpose.

Always share a document you are presenting in advance with the people who are attending the meeting. Share it especially with those from whom you expect disagreement. It will allow you to highlight the points for which you´ll need to provide strong backup and to anticipate questions.

Have an answer, always
It can be a temporary answer, or a partial one, but from day one always have the answer to your analysis ready. In fact, companies like McKinsey & Company even write the conclusion of the analysis in advance (the so called "hypothesis driven" problem solving), and then work to either prove or disprove their conclusion. This is a very powerful way to approach problem solving - if you make sure you do not fall in love with your hypothesis.

How can you do this concretely?

Practice the elevator test: If you were to meet your CEO in the elevator, and if he were to ask you how your analysis of the market is going, you would replace the typical answer, "Fine, I am almost done" with something like "Preliminary findings seem to show we are losing market share. I still need, however, to confirm if we are looking at the same market, etc." This kind of answer will help build your credibility and will enhance the CEO´s level of comfort.

When undertaking a long analysis, make sure you share preliminary findings midway through your analysis. If your findings contradict the common wisdom, you will be able to elicit feedback to correct or fine-tune the analysis.

When I do an analysis, I write the answer at a very early stage of the analysis. As more facts pour in, I adjust my conclusion. As a result, if I have to provide an answer before the deadline, it is always ready and written concisely.

Help in all aspects of the role
Robert Salmon, who ran L´Oreal Competitive Intelligence and Futurist team for years, frequently shared at Competia Symposium some of the anecdotes to explain how he became L´Oreal CEO´s key advisor. He suggests that your role as a CI analyst is not only to provide useful market information, but also to help the CEO on a number of fronts. This is not an accounting system where for one favour you provide, you will get one back. Instead, this will help you build a rapport with your senior management.

How can you do this concretely?

Prepare the CEO when he plans to sit with an important visitor at dinner, or receive a visit, by providing him with a bio, and key facts to entertain the discussion.

Provide him with key economic indicators and recent news of a country he is visiting.

Introduce him to interesting people he would not have met without you (Robert used to invite Nobel prize recipients to dinners at L´Oreal´s headquarters to discuss issues such as upcoming trends).

Go beyond the call of duty: I have seen analysts gain credibility when they helped the CEO find a secretary, although this is not directly related to CI.

Beware of their ego
CEOs have huge egos. So use it.

How can you do this concretely?

Make them look good: they are the ones who need to get the attention, so help them be prepared for it by providing them with the right facts, by making sure they can find those facts easily when presenting, or by helping them answer questions asked.

Let them make the decision: instead of finishing your analysis with a recommendation, highlight the two or three alternatives, and suggest which one you would take. But let them make the decision.

Do not contradict them in public: related to the first point, this means you should avoid contradicting them in public! It is better to issue a memo afterwards , or to communicate where you thought their facts were wrong, but highlighting this in public would ensure no one would want you in their team ...

Conclusion
Gaining senior management buy-in is really about finding the right balance between the soft skills (knowing how to listen to them, how to anticipate their reactions) and hard skills (rock solid analysis, irrefutable facts, etc.). It is the key to the survival of your role in the organization as ultimately without that buy-in, you will be limited in your tasks and responsibilities. At the end of the day, you run little risk in applying principles highlighted in the article so ... go for it!

Article courtesey of Family Business Strategies.

About the author: Estelle Métayer is president of Competia. Competia is North America´s leading consultancy and training organization for senior executives and analysts in Strategic Planning and Competitive Intelligence. A former consultant at the international strategic consulting firm McKinsey & Company, Estelle has written and lectured widely on the process involved in turning the intelligence gained into actions. She can be reached at http://www.competia.com.

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