To Brief CEO, Focus on Big Picture, Not Weeds

Focus on big picture. Let the CEO take you into the weeds.

That’s the philosophy of a strong executive briefing.  A tight, high-level message inspires confidence.  “If you can’t tell it to me quick,” one manufacturing executive told us recently, “you probably don’t have a strong understanding of the issues.” 

Long rambling remarks sound uncertain.  With that in mind, prepare relatively short messages that focus on just the most important issues. Deliver the update quickly.

“But our CEO wants to know all the details,” one of our clients told us.  

We’re not saying that you shouldn’t be ready with the details when asked.   But don’t serve up those details until you are asked.  A good waiter recites the specials and takes his cues on further suggestions from the restaurant patron.  He doesn’t read out the entire menu.  Similarly, a good briefer gives the high points and then responds to the issues raised by the CEO rather than wading into a lot of potentially unwanted detail.

Let the CEO ask for the detail she wants.  When you start at a high level, you can always go deeper.

We recommend a three point strategy:

  • Current Status
  • Key Challenges
  • Proposed Solutions

We worked with a telecom executive in charge of improving customer service. His task force had done several things to improve service and he had to report out to the CEO. He outlined his message as follows:

  • Current status: Our key customer service metrics are finally starting to move in the right direction.
  • Key Challenges: We’re still getting way too many customers calling us trying to figure out how to operate the new handsets.
  • Proposed Solutions: To solve the problem we’re going to get more involved in early development of the handsets.

When it was his turn during the meeting to speak, he quickly outlined the three key points, giving an overview in 15 seconds. An overview helps the listener get the big picture. Then he went back over the three key points, giving a couple of sentences of detail and explanation.  Then he stopped and took questions.

“Actually it was a very orderly and productive discussion that everyone was happy with,” he told us later. “We stayed on track and didn’t get too lost in unnecessary detail.”

Keeping your message high level tends to keep the discussion properly focused, leaving plenty of room for detail if needed.

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