Friday, October 18, 2019

Executives - why do they always ask the hard questions?

You know executives are in a room when most of the people shut up. For an outside observer they seem to bring no value in the meeting.

Image result for executives cartoon

This is the perfect picture of a meeting where executives are in the room.

People are afraid. Why are people afraid of management? Management is there to help. Always. Remember "with great power comes great responsibility"? They are Spiderman.

Some have earned their title, some have been bitten by a spider, but most of them are there to help.

Executives don't care about you, as an individual. They don't know you. They only care about results.
If you're ever in a room with executives keep 2 things in mind:
  1. you know more than them about the topic
  2. they are there to help, but you need to show them the problem
Of course executives are not superhuman. Of course you absolutely know more about your projects problems and complexities. But when you need to report to an executive, you have to understand that they need simple things like:
  1. where are we now?
  2. what is the clear message that you want them to know?
  3. what are the problems?
  4. what are the solutions to the problems?
As a reporter, you need to paint a clear picture of the current state of affairs.
Let me say that again: 
  • paint a clear picture
  • to someone who does not have your context
  • wants to help
That translates in:
  • cut the bullshit and fancy words
  • don't waste time on slides
  • if you do slides, have a clear message that you want to send, on each slide
Be aware that if your message is not clear enough (this is executive fuel) the hard questions will start. Why? Because the executive's actually trying to understand your message. If you don't do a good job there, it's entirely on you. 

I think that most people go into executive meetings thinking that they actually know more than the people reporting. They don't. They cannot. They will not. This is your job. But it's also your job to be transparent and clear in messaging. 

I actually learned this the hard way. One executive asked me only once: What is the message i should get from this slide? Then it hit me. Everything made sense. The hard questions turn into the simple questions.

Executive questions are simple: your message needs to make sense to them. But there's one caveat: small steps. Small understandings. They don't want the story from A-Z. They want you to paint them a picture from A-B then from B-C and so on.

If you encounter a hard question from an executive, they're not being evil. they just don't understand. Make it easy for them to understand your message.

I think the redundancy above made it clear for you.

Whenever an executive asks questions it's because it does not make sense to them. Your message had missing pieces. If you somehow get here, be prepared to give short and simple answers. Don't be elaborate. You hate that, they also hate that. Also, it's ok to say you don't know, but make sure to add that you're getting back with an answer or ask somebody in the room if they are more knowledgable on the topic. Give short answers only if you know the answer.

Another thing that you might encounter is finding a problem without an owner, with an executive in the room. That's ok. Be sure to always take the task and promise with a date and your name to get it done. Never stay silent like you saw a ghost. Problems are everywhere, it's also shameful when an executive finds it before you. That's ok, take that action item and move forward. Next time, be sure to have less loose ends, but don't sacrifice transparency. They can only fix and prioritize what they know. 

That's not executives help and fix problems. They use their leverage to set certain priorities to correct course.

If the problem is known and the meeting is to raise it, also make sure the solution makes sense. A-B not A-Z. If the solution is not complete, raise that. Raise the impediments and set the stage for discussion of a specific problem in your solution until everyone has the same understanding. Then ask for help.

Always put a focus on the problem and don't fall in love with your solution. Problem understanding is critical when you need management help.

Executives are normal people who have leverage to steer and solve problems. Go to them. Raise your problems, own your problems and execute solutions like a motherfucker.

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