By Rameesha Syed on October 18, 2022
5 minute read
A 3-Part Conversation Between an IC Consultant and an In-House Internal Comms Professional About How to Work the C-Suite

Welcome to part two of our three-part blog series on how internal comms can work with the C-Suite.  

 

Read on as Mike Klein, Senior Strategic Advisor to Sparrow Connected and founder of #WeLeadComms, continues the engaging conversation with Thomas Grøndorf, Head of Internal, Strategy and Financial Communication at international engineering consultancy #COWI. Mike and Thomas will explore the importance of communication, confidence and trust while working with the C-Suite. 

 

Let’s dive in. 

 

Mike: 

There’s really two dimensions to that statement - connecting with people, and connecting across the organization, and I’ve seen you do both exceptionally well over the years.  

Beyond the fundamentals of listening, you mention relationship-building, which is something a lot of folks generally find difficult, and with C-suiters, intimidating. For someone who feels easily intimidated, what are some good steps to follow to build confidence?  

  

Thomas: 

You have to remember that execs are also just people. So, another skill that is undervalued within communication is your ability to small talk. Asking execs how they are doing? What they did in the weekend, or if they watched the football game yesterday helps break the ice and build a stronger relation between you and the execs.  

 

Mike: 

When you talk about things the other person cares about, it shows that you care? 

 

Thomas: 

Exactly - super important point - they need to see and feel you care about them, that’s a very important part of the trust equation. Also, please remember that execs rarely small talk with so many others at work, they actually quite enjoy it. Talking about something else than business.  

The only thing you need to be aware of is when is the right moment to ask that critical communication question you actually came by for. 

 

Mike: 

I can see that working on a number of levels - as there are actually many layers of trust that need to be built.  The first, as said above, is demonstrating that you care. Then it’s demonstrating that you are a safe person to talk about sensitive matters, then it’s about being a knowledgeable peer, and then the person who can help them achieve what they want. Are there other levels of trust? 

 

Thomas: 

That sums it up nicely but probably most importantly - don’t be a ‘Yes Prime Minister’ type. Have the courage to say what you mean also when the exec doesn’t want to hear it - but be loyal to the decision made.  

That said you also need to be good at arguing for your points, with data, insights etc. Not just your opinion. 

 

Mike: 

And, you have to have built the relationship to the point where they see your “No” as credible. Which means, before you even get invited for the first meeting, the first coffee, the first flight, you’ve done enough homework or have amassed enough data to be ready to play? 

 

Thomas: 

Let me give you an example.  

Execs often have the response - we just need to publish a story on the intranet, then people are informed and understand what to do. Here I turn it around and ask - what is it you really want to achieve? Is it a different behaviour? Then we might also have to add some leadership communication and peer-to-peer communication.  

Leaders often think communication is the same as leadership, it’s not.  

So, you have to say, yes you can get the portal story, but you won’t achieve what you are aiming for. That starts a totally different conversation. 

 

Mike: 

There’s the old Oscar Wilde quote - “the most difficult issue in communication is the belief that it has already happened.” 

It seems you are saying the way out of that situation is to ask good questions and get execs refocused on outcomes instead of actions.   

 

Thomas: 

Yes exactly, being able to ask the right questions is another critical competency. For instance, there is a big challenge between output and outcome. Since outputs are easier to measure there is a tendency to focus on them. We need to change that, and it starts with having execs understanding the difference. 

 

Mike: 

That raises an interesting point - that execs, like all humans, see themselves as “communicators” and believe they have some knowledge about appropriate tactics.  They do, but their exposure to the options are limited. Is the key to challenge respectfully? 

 

Thomas: 

Everyone in an organisation is a communication expert - to begin with :-) 

We need to educate people more - not many companies have a communication culture, they have an information culture where people are informed about what to do, think and believe and therefore also a very simplified approach to communication.   

If a company really wants to have engaged employees and be an agile organisation with high productivity, it needs a communication culture where people give and get feedback, where information flows easily, and where priorities are known and acted upon. That among others requires that leaders are good communicators.  

 

Mike: 

So, these encounters when execs start proposing tactics can become “teaching moments” if handled well. 

 

Thomas: 

Indeed, so when we in the past launched a new strategy, we would have a big portal news, posters, maybe a town hall etc. Execs are comfortable with this because they have done it before. When you start telling them that they are not the most important people in the roll-out they get maybe a bit upset but also curious - then you refer to the Edelman Trust Barometer and start talking about how we can involve the influencers of the organisation.  

And that the role of a leader is to create understanding. They like this conversation because you keep saying that this is about embedding the strategy faster, getting the organisation to move faster in the new direction and in the end deliver better results. So, it’s basically about combining the business objectives with your new communication solutions. That they understand and appreciate. 

 

Mike:  

Exactly - a key is to be able to make a case for alternative solutions, particularly ones that drive higher impact, are more efficient and cause less friction in the business.   

Let me shift gears for a moment.  Much of what we discussed is great for a new communication leader coming into a business, or for when a new CEO or new C-Suite leaders are coming on board. But what advice do you have for, say an IC manager, who’s been in the role for some years and has more of a reputation for “doing” than “leading”? 

 

Thomas: 

Being a do’er is still critical. Bosses like when things get done. Even though I’m leading a team I’m also very much a do’er. Being a do’er keeps you grounded. But if you want more air time with the execs you need to have business acumen as mentioned. If you don’t understand the business and how you can be a value-adding consultant for the business, execs don’t have time for you. It’s that simple.  

 

Mike: 

So, if you want to stay in your job and progress, there’s a bit of personal rebranding that’s required that starts with demonstrating a heightened level of business literacy and awareness? 

 

Thomas: 

When you understand the business and are a comms pro you can also better foresee what solutions are needed - better argue for them, better get execs buy in, and in the end get them to give you the funding.  

As mentioned before, you also need to do some lobbying - have in mind that your idea is probably competing with many other great ideas for the same funding. So, map your stakeholders and get them onboard as well. 

 

To be continued...   
 
Stay tuned for part three of this series in which Mike and Thomas continue this conversation, tackling topics like:   

  • C-Suite in Different Perspectives and Backgrounds 
  • The Three Ds of Being a Good Leader 
  • How To Get an Unlimited Budget for Internal Comms 
  • And much more... 

 

What’s Next:  




 

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