Editor’s note: Veteran entrepreneur and investor Donald Thompson writes a weekly column about management and leadership as well as diversity and other important issues for WRAL TechWire. His columns are published on Wednesdays.
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RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – As Human Resources, talent and people leaders prepare for 2023 programming, many are facing a harrowing prospect – asking their C-suite bosses for money. The challenge for new leaders is real, yet mastering it is an essential skill to advance their initiatives and prepare for the next step in their own career development.
I recently had the opportunity to discuss these topics with Ben Brooks, founder and CEO of PILOT, which has created an award-winning software solution that helps HR leaders move quickly to offer meaningful employee development to retain top talent. PILOT has a deep roster of top organizations, from Aon and MetLife to Gap and Diageo.
We focused our discussion around the central theme of helping HR and people leaders get buy-in from the C-suite. We’ve both seen this as a challenge, because many leaders don’t have experience asking their bosses for budget and resources. Demystifying the experience – particularly for new leaders – is essential. Ben and I can help by providing the “insider perspective” that we’ve gained from decades of selling products, goods and services to C-suite executives, business owners and board members.
ALIGN WITH EXISTING PROGRAMS
One of the initial points Ben and I outlined is the need to align the HR budget requests with existing programs the C-suite already cares about. Tying them together with items that are “top of mind,” Ben noted, leads to “financial wins.”
Part of the alignment process includes speaking about budget requests in the language of the executive. “Do your diligence and do your homework,” Ben explained. “People are pretty predictable. If you know that your finance executive always wants to know that you’ve done a price comparison, make sure you’ve provided that as part of your rationale.”
Keep in mind that budget requests are linked to executive management cycles, and at the end of the year (or fiscal year), many are feeling a bit burned out. HR and talent leaders should use communications skills they utilize with their own teams to sell to the C-suite, Ben suggested, including talking points and sound bites that demonstrate the thought and commitment put into the request.
BEST PRACTICES AND BEING BOLD
When I counsel senior HR leaders on how to work more effectively with their CEOs, I advocate centering the conversation on the industry’s best practices. These topics resonate with the C-suite and the exchange becomes focused on how the organization can win in the marketplace.
If we authentically believe that focus areas like HR, people operations and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are strategic, then we need to be able to ask for what we need in order to be successful. Too many times, I’ve seen new leaders shy away from asking the tough questions about baseline resources that will result in transformational change.
“Often, leaders will only ask for what they are sure they will get,” Ben said. An alternative method is to advocate more aggressively. “A test is to consider when you were last told ‘no;’ if you haven’t heard a ‘no’ in a while, you’ve left a lot on the table.”
The idea here is to assert yourself and be bold in advocating, especially considering how many responsibilities HR will have during a difficult economy. “Budgets are a bit of a game internally,” Ben said. “Money is tied to power; it’s tied to values. You have to get in there and really scrap and fight for it.”
C-SUITE PARTNERSHIPS GET THINGS DONE
The belt-tightening that many organizations are experiencing makes it more critical that C-suite leaders take on projects across function areas. For example, bringing the chief marketing officer and the chief human resources officer together can energize both areas and make the CEO happy in the process.
I’ve seen this partnership philosophy work because the focus on employee branding or internal communications leads to stronger employee morale, retention and advocacy for the company. Combining forces, each division benefits from the collaborative energy and helps the whole organization.
The partnership would be a welcome change for CEOs who frequently negotiate groups and leaders not getting along or siloed. “Then the leader is investing in the collaboration, not just the initiative,” Ben explained.
DOCS NOT DECKS
The final bit of advice Ben and I discussed is how getting the ‘yes’ on a budget request is also about getting inside the CEO mindset. A straightforward tip is to think about documents not decks. In other words, give them your request in a concisely written document, not buried somewhere in a multi-slide presentation.
What we both experienced in negotiating with executives and being leaders in our own organizations is that briefing docs have more credibility than long, exhaustive presentations. Your C-suite counterparts are experts at sifting through lots of information and reducing it to its essence. So, when you engage with them, that is a natural way to begin – it’s subtle, simple and really smart.
Even the savviest executives find it difficult to negotiate budgets. However, with boldness and strategic thinking, the process can go much smoother, especially if the ask is aligned with the organization’s objectives. And, don’t forget, make it direct, concise and in the industry language your executives are accustomed to using.
About the Author
Donald Thompson is CEO and co-founder of The Diversity Movement and author of Underestimated: A CEO’s Unlikely Path to Success. As an executive coach and board member, he focuses on goal achievement, culture change and driving exponential growth. Donald hosts the “High Octane Leadership in an Empathetic World” podcast and is an award-winning entrepreneur, keynote speaker and Certified Diversity Executive (CDE). Connect with or follow Donald on Linkedin to learn more.