Influencing your boss

“Khun Kriengsak, I’m worried about my promotion to CEO next year,” Tada tells me. “Our chairwoman has strongly recommended to me that I need to improve my influencing skills.”


“Because I’m unable to present things in a short and concise way.”

“Can you give me a specific example?”

“Last week, I had to present the plan to build a new plant. It’s a huge investment. I was given 30 minutes to present my proposal to the board. Unfortunately, before I started the chairwoman had a business emergency to attend to. She had to leave the board meeting immediately. She asked me to walk with her. I had one minute in the elevator and she asked me to give her a short version of my proposal. But I was unable to explain it to her within a minute.

“Later, I had to present the plan to her again. That’s when she told me that I needed to improve in this area.”

“Khun Tada, this is not an unusual case,” I say. In some cases, though, being unable to get an idea across can have severe consequences. In Coaching for Leadership (second edition), authors Marshall Goldsmith & Laurence Lyons offered a sobering example:

“The investigation into what went wrong prior to 9/11 reveals a trail of missed opportunities. Field agents in the FBI had identified men of Middle Eastern origin taking flying lessons in sophisticated simulators; their reports were passed up the system, but their bosses took no notice. In testimony to a specifically formed investigative committee, Richard Clarke, former anti-terrorist czar for both the Clinton and Bush administrations, itemised his failures to persuade his higher-ups to take action against Al Qaeda. Sadly for our nation, the field agents and Mr Clarke were not more effective coaches and sales people.”

“Wow, the inability to influence could kill thousands of innocent people,” Tada comments.

“Khun Tada, I’d like to introduce the ‘elevator pitch’ or ‘elevator speech’. It’s a short summary used to quickly and simply define a product, service, concept or organisation and its value proposition. The name reflects the idea that it should be possible to deliver the summary in the time span of an elevator ride, or approximately 30 seconds to two minutes.”

A variety of people, including project managers, salespeople, evangelists and policymakers, commonly rehearse and use elevator pitches to get their points across quickly.

An elevator pitch is often used by an entrepreneur pitching an idea to a venture capitalist to receive funding. Venture capitalists often judge the quality of an idea by the quality of its elevator pitch and will ask entrepreneurs for their elevator pitches in order to quickly weed out bad ideas and weak teams. Elevator pitches are also used in many other situations. Personal uses include job interviewing and summarising professional services.

“What are the steps?” Tada asks.

“Here are the ABC steps for an elevator pitch: A stands for an audience. Who is your audience? How much time does he or she have for this pitch? B stands for benefit. What’s in it for him or her? And C stands for consequence _ what do you expect the audience to do after listening to your pitch?”

“Coach, let’s use my experience last week as a case in point,” suggests Tada. “In this case, A is the chairwoman. She has one minute for me. As for B, I’m not sure about the benefit to her. Can you elaborate more?”

“Khun Tada, benefit in this context usually is about peace of mind, convenience, profit, return on investment (ROI), safety, image, or good governance. So you could ask yourself this question: What is the benefit to the chairwoman of approving this proposal?”

“The benefit to her is that our company will be able to expand our production.”

“Khun Tada, the expansion is not a benefit to the chairwoman. It’s just an activity. Who is the chairwoman accountable to?”

“Various stakeholders _ investors, social, employees and customers.”

“In this context _ investment in the new plant _ who will be the most concerned stakeholders for a huge investment like this?”

“The primary ones are the investors.”

“So you have to think on behalf of the chairwoman. What is the real benefit to her?”

“An investment that’s worth the return.”

“If you could express that benefit as a headline, what would that be?”

“I want to present a proposal to build a new plant. The expansion will increase our long-term profit to meet the goal in our business plan.”

“That’s good.”

“Coach, what about the consequence?”

“Khun Tada, how do you expect the chairwoman to feel when she exits the elevator?”

“I want her to feel confident in the proposal and approve it.”

“What kind of statement would make her feel that way?”

“I will present the project scope and feasibility study within half a minute. Then, I will close my pitch: ‘After intensive study and considering all the risks, I’m confident that this investment is the right strategic decision. After your approval we can start it within a month.”‘