The name “Cassandra” comes from the Greek κεκασμαι (kekasmai), which means to excel. And there is no doubt that Heads of Global Mobility (GM) are foremost experts in moving executives around the world with an increasingly tight budget. But the fate of the famous prophet Cassandra, cursed never to be believed, seems even more fitting for the Global Mobility function today which has valuable professional insight on real business issues but is frequently unable to get its voice heard. So how can Global Mobility put themselves in a position where they are able to influence the C-Suite at a strategic level?

Getting a seat at the table

Since Dale Carnegie published “How to make friends and influence enemies”, the art of persuasion has been studied, deconstructed and pulled apart several times over.

Leaders at executive level do not have time to waste dealing with administration or weakly constructed arguments. Concentration span reduces the further you go up the career ladder.

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This means that if Global Mobility is going to influence the C-Suite and make a significant difference to the business at a strategic level, not only do they have to be concise, they need to learn to speak the language of influence.

Be SMART

Before you even consider booking a time slot, you must ask yourself the obvious, but often-overlooked question: is it worth it?

Is your idea or suggestion genuinely worth 15 minutes of your CEO’s time?

It’s worth applying the SMART model to your proposal:

S – specific, significant, stretching

M – measurable, meaningful, motivational

A – agreed upon, attainable, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented

R – realistic, relevant, reasonable, rewarding, results-oriented

T – time-based, time-bound, timely, tangible, trackable

Use a colleague in a different department as a sounding board – someone who can give you constructive feedback from a similar non-specialist perspective. Ask them to comment on the originality and practicality of what you are suggesting and make appropriate adjustments. 

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When it comes to the perennial challenge of business traveler compliance, for example, clearly we can’t fit every assignee with an electronic tag. While this may be a very effective solution, it is not a practical (or legal) one.

Changing the expenses policy so that no one, even the CEO can book travel without going through a mobility checklist is more realistic. It may help you avoid that dreaded call late at night when your CEO is stranded at a foreign airport with the wrong visa.

Fail to prepare – prepare to fail

Getting a second opinion will not only save you the potential embarrassment and reputational damage, but it also gives you the opportunity to practice your pitch. 

If you manage to convince the CHRO, CFO or CEO to spare you a short time, you need to go in prepared and polished.

To effectively influence the C-suite, precision is paramount. 

Of course, it helps if you have an existing relationship built on empathy, rapport and trust, but more often this is a commando-style attack: precise, targeted and well supported.

Four keys to influence the C-suite more effectively

Here are some key suggestions to help you become a more effective influencer:

1.  Develop a reputation as a problem solver

Raising (or causing) problems is easy. Solving them is far more challenging. Google identified problem-solving as one of the key skills in their most productive employees.

The first step to having influence is to be good at what you do. Unless you are already on speaking terms with the C-suite, they will certainly make a couple of calls to establish the type of person you are. If you have the reputation of complaining or causing noise, then you may find it much harder to find a gap in the calendar for your meeting. 

The person who can propose solutions to the CEO’s headaches will develop a reputation for success.

A well-positioned solution allows exceptionally busy people to tick another task off their list and move on; it leaves you with credibility and a label of “can-do.”

Problem-solvers are an organization’s most valuable asset and give people authority and credibility that is well beyond their seniority or experience.

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2.   Match your language and communication style

We can divide the people we need to influence into two groups: problem-solvers and achievers. Achievers are motivated by solutions that add value and make them or their organization look good. Problem-solvers want to avoid obstacles and make life simpler. 

Listen to the way your CEO speaks: what words do they use? Try to weave those keywords into your conversation; use the words that will appeal to what they want to hear. Practice so that it becomes natural and unforced.

To influence achievers, use these words:

Attain, obtain, get, include, achieve, enable you to, benefits, advantages, have what you want, accomplish.

We should invest in the new assignment management software. It will help us achieve our goal of increasing efficiency, it will enable us to maximize our resources and accomplish our goal of improving our talent retention.”

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To influence problem-solvers, use these words:

Won’t have to, solve, prevent, fix, avoid, not have to deal with, get rid of, it’s not perfect, let’s find out what’s wrong, and there will be no problems.

We should invest in the new assignment management software. We won’t have to track assignees manually, we can get rid of pressure on our resources, and it will deal with our talent retention issue.”

Use as many communication channels as possible:

  • Visual convincers: use graphic images, charts and diagrams. Use phrases such as “You will see…”; “This shows us that…”
  • Auditory convincers: ask rhetorical questions and lead them to reach the same conclusion as you.
  • Kinetic convincers: paint a physical image, use physical examples and aids if possible. Use physical language: “You can feel the difference…”;” We can handle this much better…”
  • Logic convincers: statistics, facts and rational arguments work best. Lead the person you are persuading through the logic. Use logical language: “We can deduce that…”; “We can rationalize our approach…”

3.  Predict objections

If you are making a presentation, work with a colleague who can take the role of devil’s advocate. Try and identify all the possible objections to your proposal and prepare a counter. If possible, build them into your presentation.

Presenting and addressing objections shows that you have considered the challenge from different perspectives and reassures the decision maker that you have contingencies in place. 

You may have a detailed, complicated and technical proposal that they are not going to read in detail. They may not even have the technical knowledge to understand the solution, so presenting the objections as resolved, you help them make an informed decision.

“This hasn’t been accounted for in our departmental budget for this year, however not only will we be able to reduce our headcount by 10%, but the software will also pay for itself in time efficiency savings within 18 months.”

4.  Make the data tell a story

Statistics are boring. Data is dull. Numbers are meaningless. However, they are essential to provide evidence to support your case and, presented well, they are deal-closers in the world of influence.

But stories speak to us as they are engaging at an anecdotal level. We are interested in stories, they draw us in and grab our attention. They’re how we learn about the world and how we understand reality.

If you bring data and stories together, you are combining two of the most influential tools you have at the same time. 

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In 2017/18 290 assignees underperformed on assignment – they didn’t achieve the performance metrics set out by the host country and the talent team. That puts our failure rate at 15%, or in financial terms, around $20,000,000. In fact, the Brazilian office has said that they have had to divert two additional people to support the team led by one expat to try and cover the gap. The package we are proposing will add 1.5% to the cost of an assignment but will mean that next time, Brazil will get an expat that has been properly prepared, trained and equipped to succeed.  When we replicate that across all 35 offices we can reduce our failure rate to around 3%, which is an annual saving of $17,000,000.”

Don’t withhold your value through poor influencing skills

Influence is often positioned as a skill that is good for your career – and there is no denying that it is. However, of much greater importance is the fact that good influencers are heard, and their ideas are implemented. Global Mobility is a source of expertise, knowledge and wisdom that modern organizations cannot afford to lose. A global mobility team that fails to influence the C-Suite not only damages their own career, they damage the whole business.

Maybe the Trojan war could have been avoided if Cassandra had learned to be a good influencer!