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The Elevator Pitch: Keep Your Credibility with the CEO

“Do you have an hour or so?”

That’s the snarky answer to the questions you get, and the wrong way to answer.  But it might be the first thing that comes to mind when you get the questions:

“What is our disaster recovery plan?

“How do we use the cloud?”

“What should we do about BYOD?”

The questions are all over the map, endless and almost unwieldy. In an impromptu conversation with other peers or executives, your job is to demonstrate credibility and answer in all of 30 seconds.   It’s hard to believe that your job as IT leader demands that you are an elevator pitch master.   But you have to be.  And you also have to back it up, for your sake and the company’s.

I recall the first one specifically, when I was the head of IT at a life sciences company.  It was a hallway conversation as the founder/CEO and I crossed paths one morning. “John, are we proactively addressing disaster recovery?”

I could have said, “Sure are. Have a good day,” at which time, I would have expected all my credibility to lie in dust on the corporate floor.

Is the CEO looking for a yes or no answer?   Or is the CEO, or any strategically minded executive, collaborating with executives throughout the enterprise, ensuring that critical company strengths exist, and the life blood of the company is protected? He was collaborating with me, whether “I got it” or not.   Your executive peers, the Lines of Business (LoB), the company leadership, the BoD are learning.  Just as you are.   And in learning, they are synthesizing the information and considering its applicability to the company mission.

This can include operational processes, financial management, technical infrastructure, market expansion, customer success.

What is expected is that you are prepared with an elevator pitch for a nearly infinite number of business oriented questions. After all, you are the head of information technology, the business within the business, and you are GM for an extraordinarily complex business of supply chains, operations, innovation, and potential management of applications, assets, and organizations.

You’re not done there, however. Your elevator pitch, your proof in understanding the latest issues of industry, operations, and innovation, the latest trends and markets, must be backed up with action. Understanding how to explain and define a strategy is critical to achieving it.   But it’s “smoke and mirrors” if there is not an aligned and integrated means for advancing that strategy.

So how can we have an action plan for every possible buzzword in industry?

Certainly some activities will be inapplicable to your environment, but in many cases the questions (so-called buzzword queries) are applicable to many universal constants and standard enterprise processes, which umbrella its constituent parts.

For example, let’s go back to our question on disaster recovery.  If I wasn’t prepared to answer the question in an elevator pitch, then I wasn’t in the right position to be leading IT.   But fortunately I was prepared.   And disaster recovery was a subset of a more far-reaching mindset within our security professionals:

“Disaster Recovery is one domain within our overall Business Continuity Strategy; the four major domains within Business Continuity include our:

  • Crisis Management Framework
  • Tools and Teams Structure
  • Disaster Recovery Processes
  • Resumption of Standard Operations

Of course, the accountability for these domains cuts across all Lines of Business and so we’ve integrated them within each of the LoB’s operational responsibilities.

Nevertheless, we take the leadership role in severity assessment, gap analysis, and continuous improvement.   For example, there are many processes in the company that can afford no downtime, as they critically impact the revenue base and customer satisfaction.  Others areas will demand a higher risk appetite.

Within our Business Continuity, we continually assess readiness, integrating risk mitigation efforts as part of our daily rigor, and testing our ability to handle crises, including Disaster Recovery.”

Done in thirty seconds. End of story?  Hardly, because the next comment implicitly assured that the strategy was real, tangible and thorough.  His response came immediately.

“Great. Let’s ensure that the business review team has a consistent understanding, and I want to again emphasize the shared responsibility.”

Translation – “Be prepared to thoroughly discuss this at the next executive staff meeting.”  It was then on the agenda. The implicit expectation was that the strategy for Business Continuity, which I explained as including Disaster Recovery, was in fact an active and vibrant strength in the company, and that my words were supported by action.

CIOs and executive staff are typically ready to deliver an elevator pitch (or they ought to be), but the implicit credibility is fleeting (in fact, it’s false) if there is not an associated plan or operation which is regularly progressing, communicated and managed.   Strategies are not discrete tasks, with start and end dates.   They are constantly assessed and applied.

So if the latest buzzword or trend is asked, (i.e., what is our cloud strategy?… or big data?… or M&A… ?) are you prepared to answer in a structured and compartmentalized manner.  And more importantly, is there an actionable plan or sustainable process within the company, which you are leading, that ensures capabilities to achieve the strategic goals you have just articulated in thirty seconds?

About John Chambers

John Chambers is the Principal at JCC Executive Partners, a consulting firm delivering IT business management analysis, guidance and leadership for CxOs and IT management teams. He is also creator and designer the Fast Track Enablement™ series of business management workshops. His experience also spans decades of senior management positions in Engineering and Customer Service at Summa Four, Digital Equipment Corporation, and Lockheed Martin. John holds a BS Computer Science from Boston College; a Master of Science Information Technology from Rivier College; and continued Doctoral Studies in International Business at Southern New Hampshire University.

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