Communicating with the C-Suite: Here’s What You Need to Know

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In order to achieve success at every level, from employee to executive, an individual must understand how to communicate effectively with all employees, no matter how high up in the business. These skills can reduce confusion, encourage transparency, and improve the productivity and collaboration of the entire executive team. An individual must have a firm grasp on how to communicate effectively with members of the C-suite.

Employees must know how to communicate important information to executives.

Image via Flickr by 1DayRevew

Communication is a Three-Way Street in Business

According to a survey performed by Omobono, a global creative and technology agency that powers brands all over the world, communication is essential at all levels of an organization. Executives are responsible for communicating the company’s vision, and those who work for them must be able to communicate with them, other employees, as well as with the public.

For those whose jobs require communicating with executives, other employees and with the public, there are some key facts to keep in mind:

  • 85 percent of respondents reported that identifying and communicating a clear vision for a brand is a major challenge. Brand awareness and communication go hand-in-hand, as the way a brand is portrayed is ultimately in the hands of its executive team.
  • 55 percent of marketing professionals have the main objective to increase brand awareness.
  • 34 percent of marketing professionals have the main objective to strengthen their thought leadership.

Without an effective and clear communication strategy, it will be difficult to achieve any of these objectives. Ultimately, communication on this three way street begins with vision, continues with strategy, and ends with thought leadership

Every Stakeholder Needs to Be a Communicator

Communication can be the key to success for individuals at all levels – especially those who directly communicate with or work at the C-Suite level. According to Howard Seidel, a senior partner at Essex Partners, “executives [who] get by without great communication skills … [are] less effective and can [be put] at professional risk.” He continued, “I’ve had clients that were ultimately jettisoned by organizations because of communication issues, despite their functional excellence.”

For both executives and those who report to them, there are several ways to improve communications skills starting right now:

Limit Confusing Language

In every industry, jargon and technical terms – such as “A/B testing,” “content marketing,” or “conversion rate optimization” – tend to pop up. Some don’t realize they’re using terms that are confusing to those around them. Using industry-specific jargon may seem like second nature, but it can exclude those who are trying to be part of the conversation.

By limiting these terms from the conversations with other team members, employees can strengthen team bonds and build stronger relationships with executives. Additionally, it’s important to listen to what others are talking about and the terms they use to describe specific situations in the industry. Adopting simpler terms can help employees and executives alike as they work to become more communicative.

Know the Audience 

Whether working in an entry-level role or as the chief executive officer, a team member must understand who their target audience is. Without an effective communication strategy, an employee could quickly lose the attention of their audience when delivering a pitch or presentation.

According to Jeevan Balani, an executive coach in residence for startups and a growth consultant for venture capital and private equity clients, one of the most important aspects of communication is knowing what is important to discuss when talking to members of the executive team. Balani explained that when presenting to a C-level individual, it’s critical to know how to answer a few key questions:

  • How can the company grow more quickly?
  • What is needed from the executive team?
  • How would the company’s competitors react to this idea?
  • What would happen if the company does nothing instead of pursuing this idea?
  • What are the assumptions being made?
  • How will this help the company’s customers?

If a team member can answer these questions with ease, their presentation is more likely to address the aspects of an idea or pitch that an executive cares about most.

Listen and Respond

Listening is an important and often overlooked aspect of communication. A good listener allows the other parties in the conversation to feel heard and valued. However, when communicating with higher level personnel, employees must go a step beyond. They should be prepared to answer questions, resolve concerns, and address complaints.

Seidel also emphasized that the “three essential communication skills [are]: listening, advocating, and inquiring. All three are important at all levels, but as professionals welcome more senior positions, the ratios change.” As a senior level executive, it’s important to know how to ask the right questions, inquire to get more information, and then present an opinion and advocate for it.

Stakeholder Reporting

In addition to simply presenting the facts and figures, good communication with the C-level team members includes identifying the “why” behind the reporting and how it communicates the big picture of the business. The value of hard work may become lost in a sea of numbers, even when a company is doing well. This is where communication becomes so critical. The ability to talk to executives openly and emphasize the value of what is reported on is vital to the success of any professional.

Communication in Mergers and Acquisitions

According to the Mergers & Acquisitions (M&A) Trends Report published by Deloitte in 2018, executives in corporate and private equity firms foresaw an acceleration of M&A activity in 2018. This activity was not contained to a certain firm size or industry. Rather impacted companies of all sizes, for example Walt Disney Co., 21st Century Fox, AT&T, and Time Warner. Many businesses will encounter M&A activity at some point. When that happens, no matter the role an employee serves on a team, strong and effective communication is vital. When an M&A doesn’t go as planned, poor communication may be to blame. Communication may become especially challenging between executives who are aware of the plan to merge with or acquire another business but aren’t sure what they can share with the rest of the team. At the start of the M&A process, those involved may have an idea of how the process will go. However, when any word of the transaction hits the employees, the workplace becomes a rumor mill that can churn a lot of worry, fear, and anxiety.

On the other side, employees may not know how to effectively communicate with C-level professionals to get their questions answered. Effective communication and keeping all team members as informed as possible will alleviate some of the stress and maintain a calm atmosphere in the office.

Communication With C-Level Team Members

Each individual communicates differently, so understanding how one person prefers to convey and receive information can make a large difference. For example, if the executive tends to share a lot of data in their emails and conversations, coming into a conversation with data to back up a point can be beneficial.

It’s also critical to understand what is important to an executive. A message is more effective when it’s framed with this concept in mind. When communicating, a marketing team member or other employee may want to focus the talking points on the impact to the company, as that is typically what an executive will want to know.

According to research performed by Bizfluent, communication in the workplace will either make or break a business. Effective communication skills are important for all employees ranging from entry-level to C-level. Improving these skills comes with a number of benefits in the professional world. An effective communicator is more likely to advance in their career and have a positive reputation with their colleagues; thus, improving overall productivity and collaboration across the organization.

Building communication skills isn’t something that can be done overnight. The online Master of Communication Management through USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism provides opportunities to apply problem-solving techniques, tools, and common language through interconnected educational courses and real-life situations. Our program is designed around best practices in communication and evidence-based research. Learn more about how an MCM online degree can equip you to translate, analyze, and gather information while turning ideas into strategies.



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