When the CEO Says, “Tell Me Something I Don’t Already Know!”

There is nothing worse than to have a senior leader dismiss your data or presentation because he or she doesn’t understand why it’s in front of them. I know this only too well, thanks to having a report shot down in flames myself not too long ago.

I recently presented the chart below to show the degree to which leaders in a company articulated the corporate priorities (“Say”) vs. taking action to support those priorities (“Do”). The CEO greeted the chart with: “Why am I seeing this? There’s nothing in here I don’t already know!”

After I picked myself up off the floor, I showed the data to a CEO friend of mine who said, “I don’t know what to do with this.” In other word’s there was no WIFM – “What’s in it for me?” I didn’t give the CEO what he needed to know to make a decision. Of course, to my eye the chart expressed an obvious and serious failure of leadership. But clearly my report did not adequately communicate what the problem was or how it needed to be fixed.

Forget the Trees, Focus on the Forest

In any situation like this you have got to look at your data again and figure out how to express it in a way that gets the point across more forcefully. (And if you don’t yourself know exactly what that point is, then you have a much bigger problem. Start here: “Three Beginner’s Tips for Finding Insight In Your Data,” then move on to here: “Use Your Data to Become a Communications Superhero,” and here: “How to Write a Communications Measurement Report that Will Tame the Data Puking Dragon.”)

In my case, I picked one number, sorted from worst to best, and made it very, very obvious what the problem was: They weren’t going to make the “Best Place to Work” list if less than half of leadership was acting in a way that supported that ambition. That should have been my lead right from the start, but I’d gotten lost in the data.

Once I’d focused on what I knew the CEO needed to hear, I redid the chart to look like this:

Same data, just a different presentation. It may not be what hey wanted to hear, but it was what they needed to hear

About Author

Katie Paine

I've been called The Queen Of Measurement, but I prefer Seshat, the Goddess.