What Makes the CEO Say "Yes"?

As a chairman and CEO of an $85M company with over 700 employees I was presented with my fair share of proposals for projects, "transformational" initiatives and various other recommendations. Most of the time my reception to these proposals was tepid at best. And for good reason. It wasn’t that the proposal was unreasonable or the associate or consultant presenting the proposal wasn’t credible, it was simply that the connection of the proposal to what we were doing as a business and to our macro strategic imperatives was out of alignment.

Below I will share the business questions that I asked in an effort to differentiate the projects and initiatives that wouldn't receive further consideration from those that I threw my full support behind. I think it’s safe to say that my thinking and behavior in making these decisions is quite typical of most CEOs—specifically, if someone wanted my support he or she had to convince me the idea or proposal was moving in the same direction the company was going.

Here are the questions I asked:

  • How does this proposal or idea connect to the larger strategy?
    • Is the proposal or idea keeping with and supportive of the strategic path we are on?
    • Will the success of the proposal or idea, as it is defined, actually move us to our defined strategic outcomes?
    • Will its success make us more valuable in the market place?
    • Will it positively differentiate us to our clients and associates?
  • How does this proposal or idea impact our people?
    • Does it facilitate their success? How?
    • Does it lower personnel turnover and increase engagement?
    • Does it make us a more attractive employer?
  • Why is this proposal or idea more than just a fad or another "initiative"?
    • Will it actually do what the proponents profess?
    • Can it be legitimately sold to the intended audience, or will they view it as another "initiative" that will have a big launch, lots of flash and no follow through or substance in the form of meaningful change?
  • Do we understand the resource implications of this proposal or idea?
    • What will it really cost (hard and soft cost)?
    • Has the presenting team done a truly diligent and pragmatic review of the costs?
    • Do we have the funds to carry this out?
    • Do we have the people-power to carry this out, or are we already too thin and fragmented with current important issues?
    • If we do this, do any current issues have to be delayed or cancelled?
  • Do the people presenting the proposal or idea really understand what it is going to take to carry it through, and do they have the requisite skills?
    • Have they thoroughly considered and planned the entire execution of the idea?
    • Do they have enough experience to be successful?
    • Do they have the enterprise influence to be successful?
    • Do they have the drive to succeed? (Note: This is probably the single biggest consideration.)
  • What is the ROI, and how are we going to measure it?
  • Does the proposal or idea capture my passion?
    • Would I be excited if I were an associate impacted by this?
    • As CEO will I be able to get and stay behind this for the duration?
    • Is it the most important thing I can spend my time supporting given all the competing alternatives?

The biggest challenge for any department in a company is to think of the macro business first. Most of us have the tendency to look at the world through the filter of our assigned discipline, i.e. human resources, marketing, F&A, etc. CEOs have to see the world holistically. If you can make your presentations and arguments for support from a holistic perspective you will greatly raise the odds that your proposal or idea gets top level commitment and support—and receives the CEO's "Yes"!

First Published on Human Resources IQ.