Tanner James Blog

7 ways to get your executives on-side

John Howarth

One of my points in my blog Capability Improvement – 5 Ways To Get The Ball Rolling was “inform your executives”.  I said “understand what their problems are, and where P3 disciplines might help. But equally important is that you understand where they won’t help”. 

This blog offers some more suggestions for how to get your executives on-side. 

1. Ask questions

 It’s amazing how many people enthusiastically espouse the value of P3 disciplines without understanding the perspective, role and priorities of the person they are speaking with. Sometimes it is as basic as picking the right time to speak and seeking permission to have the conversation.

I suggest asking “There are some approaches available which I think might help us deliver the new change programme – would you be happy to have a chat with me about this for 15 minutes next week?”

2. Understand their problem

Make sure you have a reasonable appreciation of what it is the executive is doing and what challenges that presents to them.  If you can describe the challenges your executives face better than they can then you can bet they’ll listen carefully to your ideas for how they might be tackled.

3. Provide context

Do you think telling an executive: “So what you need to do is invest in some change management training” will result in a polite “Why should I?” response or even an outright dismissal?

I suggest something along the lines of: “The front-line managers will have a significant role in making the new systems work.  Introducing such systems requires a very different skill set to their usual day-to-day job.  Do you think it would be worth educating them in some of the approaches they might use?”

4. Educate (but don’t patronise)

Please keep in mind that you may well be talking to someone who already knows more about the subject than you ever will but you can test understanding with phrases like “Are you aware that there are frameworks available that set out how we could manage our portfolio of change and what an Enterprise PMO needs to do to support that?”.

Some of the most significant progress I have seen in P3 implementations occur when a senior executive becomes aware of something they didn't previously know about and thus they re-frame the way they look at how things might be progressed.

5. Know your stuff

“It’s really important that every project must have someone in the role of Project Board Executive from day one.” 

That’s a great statement to make, provided you can back it up with a clear rationale when asked “Why?”

Warning: “Because the PRINCE2 Manual says so” isn't a compelling answer.

6. Give examples

I'm a trainer and consultant so I spend way too much time talking in the abstract.  Don’t fall into the same trap.  Make it real.  Talk about the change initiatives in your organisation.  Be specific about how the P3 disciplines can help.

Be compelling. For example, “In two days with the stakeholders we can nail down the staff redeployments we expect in the next three years, including who is going to make them happen, and which jobs will be re-designed”.

What isn't compelling is saying “We should use benefits mapping and profiling”.

7. Be realistic

As much as I hate to admit it, portfolio, programme and project management disciplines are not the answer to the world’s ills. They provide helpful ways to manage change, but that is all.

As a wise consultant said to me many years ago, when I was a youthful and enthusiastic manager of a quality assurance and methods group, “John, the method won’t turn bad managers into good ones.”  He then added, with a twinkle in his eye, “but it will expose the bad ones”.

If there are any executives out there reading this the please feel free to add your views – or comment on mine!

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