You’re standing at the desk of a busy car rental agency. “Do you have a car available?” you ask.
“Let’s see,” the agent says, tapping at the keyboard. “We’re approaching a holiday weekend . . . and the system shows demand typically reaching a peak tomorrow. That said, weather patterns can disrupt reservations. I’m seeing a 20 percent chance of rain for today.”
You glance at your watch. “Right. Any car is fine.”
“What’s interesting is that our bookings are stable this year, despite the ridesharing craze. We feel that we serve a fundamentally different need in the market.”
“Okay. Do you have a car available?”
“I will tell you what is changing,” the agent says. “We get nearly 73 percent of our bookings online now, with only a 5 percent cancellation rate.”
At this point, you're annoyed. You have one objective -- to rent a car -- and you’re not getting the one answer you need: Is there a car to rent?
I often see a similar dynamic at play when it comes to communication at the top of organizations. The CEO needs a specific type of information from the leadership team, but his or her executives bury that insight beneath layers of meaningless metrics and fluff. Confusion all around results, preventing execution and collaboration.
Why do such scenarios occur? Too many executives overestimate the CEO’s understanding of, and desire for, detailed functional data. Many of the best CEOs are generalists who lack deep expertise in most functional areas. If they rose through the ranks of a single department, like marketing, sales or engineering, chances are they have expertise in just that one area.
Therefore, the CEO relies on executives to analyze functional data and deliver their interpretations of it -- not to send over a batch of raw information and expect the all-knowing CEO to figure it out.
As an executive, then, consider it part of your job to separate the signal from the noise and to edit your communications to the CEO in a way that helps him or her lead. Here are three tips for doing just that.
1. Keep the big picture in mind.
The CEO is responsible for the big picture, balancing the needs of shareholders, customers and employees. So, resist the temptation to drag the CEO into the sausage-making details of how your department functions. Instead, deliver concise insight into how your department is tracking on its goals. Concentrate on how those goals support overall company goals and how they integrate with other departments’ goals.
2. Focus on the future.
Your CEO is, or should be, future oriented. The job entails predicting company performance, and the CEO has to go to the board every quarter with short- and long-term plans. This means that the CEO wants to hear your forecasts about future performance -- not the day-to-day minutiae of your department. Too often, though, the only future-oriented information the CEO receives is from the sales team, while other departments risk making themselves irrelevant by delivering long historical reports lacking forward-looking insight.
3. Ask for support when you need it.
Instead of simply relaying information to the CEO, go further and identify how he or she can help remove any barriers you’re facing. While individuals in this position may not fully grasp the technical aspects of your department, they can provide value. Only the CEO can mitigate conflicts between departments and allocate resources where they are most needed. In addition, the CEO can use his or her connections to bring in outside expertise or open doors for you. But if you’re not clear about what you need, not even the CEO will be able to help effectively.
In sum, when executives and CEOs don’t communicate well, the organization is in trouble. Department objectives become elevated over corporate goals, leading to misalignment and scattered performance.
After all, a CEO learns to measure the sales department with sales productivity, the marketing department with marketing ROI, the product development team with product output, etc. While these are important metrics, they don’t capture the big picture. Each department becomes more siloed, doing work that may not support the broader company strategy.
So, in your next exchange with your CEO, use these tips to keep your communication focused and relevant. You’ll increase your value to the company, and support its overall success.