How to argue with the CEO -- and win

By , CIO |  IT Management, CIO role

Arguments ensue when the CEO gets frustrated by a CIO who carries on about technology. Focus your pitch on what you want to do, the cost of the effort and the business outcome. If your pitch interests the CEO, she'll dig deeper, giving you the opportunity to provide her with more information.

5. Anticipate the CEO's questions. Kretzman says seemingly obvious questions sometimes flummox IT leaders as they make a business case to the CEO. "I've seen tech people put together discussions that don't have any reference to the cost or timeline [of a project] because they get so caught up in the technology," he says.

Be prepared to answer the obvious questions the CEO will ask, he adds, which include: How much will it cost? When can we have it? What else gets pushed aside if we do it?

Goss says a "completely reasonable question" caught him off guard when he was making a case for firewall technology while working as the technical director for IT outsourcing company Digitas. The question: "Why do we need to spend this much money? Why can't we just spend 80%?"

Goss says he had no immediate answer to the question because he hadn't anticipated it. Goss realized the COO, who asked it, was trying to figure out what level of risk the company might incur if it spent less money on firewall technology. Goss went back to the drawing board, and he and his staff rewrote their case in terms of risk. Goss then received approval for the investment.

6. Don't take the CEO's questions personally. Arguments can erupt when a CEO's questions push a CIO back on his heels and make him defensive. Push aside your ego and realize that the CEO's job is to ask questions.

"A CEO got to where he or she is by being a critical thinker, and a critical thinker doesn't just accept what they're told," says Kretzman. "They look for the weak side [of arguments]."

7. Give the CEO realistic answers. Nothing frustrates a CEO more than a CIO who over-promises and under-delivers. "CEOs get really impatient and frustrated when they can't get clear answers to questions, or when they get answers that they don't have confidence in," says Kretzman. "If you say a project will cost this much and you're always wrong by 50% and off schedule by six months, sooner or later that will lead to an argument."

Unrealistic cost and schedule estimates also erode a CIO's credibility, adds Bowdoin's Davis. "It's better to go in with the right project at the right price and explain why it has to be this way than to build something that won't be as stable," he says. "You'll reduce trust in IT across the company and with the CEO."

8. The medium is the message. PowerPoint won't always make your point. Sometimes you have to get creative when you want to convince the CEO to back an organizational change.

Originally published on CIO |  Click here to read the original story.
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