#SHRM21 Interview with Brad M. Holst: Communicating Effectively with Your C-Suite to Turn Ideas into Reality

In this interview, Brad M. Holst, Executive Communication Coach of Mandel Communications, discusses communicating effectively with your C-suite to turn ideas into reality. 

Hi Brad, for those of us who are not familiar with your work, can you please introduce yourself?

I believe that “everyone has a need to be heard.” I try to use my experience and creativity to quickly help my coaching clients "be heard" in high-stakes presentations.  Mandel Communications is the global leader in communication skills training for organizations that believe in the power and potential of their employees. We believe that anyone, regardless of their role or experience level, can learn new ways to craft and deliver strong messages, elevate their executive presence, and maximize their value in every communication. At Mandel Communications, I was the lead architect of Mandel's globally proven content-creation tools. My business acumen evolved from prior talent and organizational effectiveness leadership roles with The Walt Disney Company, The Clorox Company, and Armor All Products.  I’ve been featured in multiple videos in the Harvard ManageMentor® series and authored numerous published articles.  My wife, a senior HR executive, and I make our home in the San Francisco Bay Area along with our fun-loving yellow Lab.

You’ll be talking about communicating effectively with your C-suite to turn ideas into reality. Can you please share more about how to communicate effectively with busy executives by using concise, focused, and effective storytelling skills? 

When sharing recommendations and innovative ideas with executives, you must help the decision-makers quickly clear three hurdles: Understand what you are suggesting. If you and your message are hard to follow, the decision-makers are unlikely to pay attention. See the value in your thinking. Decision-makers must first align on the issue your recommendation addresses. Only then can they appreciate how your idea delivers compelling and relevant benefits. Trust in your competency. Decision-makers must feel confident in your ability to act on your idea. Don’t try to be slick or smooth. Just be yourself and let your conviction shine through. To significantly increase the odds of your ideas being adopted, put yourself in the decision-makers’ shoes. Ask yourself: What can I do to ensure that they understand my idea, see the value in my thinking and ultimately trust me?

Thanks for the insights. What are some recommended ways that business executives prefer to receive recommendations and ideas? 

Innovative ideas are in constant competition with other ideas and busy activities inside every business. Often, innovative ideas don’t get noticed against all of this background noise. It’s an observable fact that it’s not necessarily the most innovative ideas that get heard and acted on; it’s the best-presented ideas that get attention – the ones that are clear, compelling and skillfully delivered by a confident messenger.

How can HR best prepare for the unique challenges of communicating HR recommendations to executives in high-stakes situations? Any examples? 

Due to the innate tendency human beings have to discount or ignore others who have weak presentation skills, in order to fully capitalize on the power of HR-contributed innovation, HR professionals and leaders must build a strong collective innovation-sharing capability. Without this organizational strength, “lost in presentation” will be the fate for most new ideas. What’s required is a developmental strategy that up-levels the essential skills that enable an HR influencer to persuasively formulate, deliver and defend their ideas. A senior business leader in a well-known Fortune 50 tech company once described his frustration with an “otherwise bright staff who struggled with presenting ideas in a way that would be crystal clear on the problem as well as the idea.” To address that frustration, the executive drove the adoption of our communication framework with his people to help them articulate their ideas more clearly, opening the door to a healthier, more productive dialogue. Speaking - and speaking up! - can be tough.

What are some tips you have for HR to think and then speak with greater ease, clarity, credibility, and impact? 

To effectively influence senior decision-makers, HR professionals and leaders need to learn how to avoid three all too common executive communication mistakes: Failure to Communicate Value Apathy-inducing opening. Quickly link your idea to a top-of-mind decision-maker issue. Then, clearly describe how your idea delivers compelling value, or risk disruptive interruptions. Lack of memorable stories. Why do successful innovators use well-told, emotionally connected stories? They accelerate decision-maker understanding and approval. Failure to Project Credibly Contagious Conviction Nonverbal self-sabotage. Fidgety body language, fleeting eye contact, and repetitive “um’s” can crush the perceived credibility of the idea generator. Well-intended, but numbing professionalism. If you don’t sound excited about your idea, why should your decision-makers feel that way? Failure to Build trust Interactively Unprepared for common questions. Questions mean the decision-makers are interested. But being surprised by an obvious question can cause instant disinterest. Overreacting defensively. Tough questioning can feel like an attack on your idea and credibility. This can trigger extreme reactions, from timid to argumentative. Neither is good.

How can HR influence business executives to make better talent decisions and focus on the right things? 

Start with the “Why?”. If you can effectively “sell” the problem (or opportunity), you dramatically increase the odds that the decision-makers will “buy” your recommendation. Executives must understand and care about the issue in order to really listen to and consider any recommendations. Sadly, in an enthusiastic rush to share ideas this vital step is often short-changed or even overlooked making “lost in presentation” the fate for many new ideas.

Alright, last question (thanks for hanging in there). For anyone who won’t be able to make it to your talk about Communicating Effectively with Your C-suite to Turn Ideas into Reality in Las Vegas, what do you want them to know? 

When good ideas are adopted, everybody wins! When HR professionals and leaders optimize their capability to be heard by the C-Suite, everyone wins. Innovative ideas ultimately live or die based on their own merit and value. Work will get done more effectively, HR will feel more empowered and engaged, and, ultimately, business results improve.

Learn more at Brad’s SHRM session: Communicating Effectively with Your C-suite to Turn Ideas into Reality *

Additional fee and registration required In-Person Thursday 09/09/2021 08:00 a.m. PT - 12:00 p.m. PT  

The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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