My chats with C level management, and what I learned from them


A couple of months ago, I picked up on a personal frustration I felt when the CEO of our company visited my R&D department. I noticed how he would only ever visit our area to show around visitors, usually investors (or so I assume, and in some cases was actually told). It occurred to me that he doesn’t even know who we are, what we do, etc.

However, because I think about management issues differently now than I did, say, a couple of years ago, I reversed the argument. Here I am, judging the CEO of our company while I know nothing about him, who he is, what he does, etc. Naturally, I have an inkling about what a CEO is supposed to do, but truth be told I didn’t know what the role entails on a daily basis. So, I figured I should turn this around and requested a meeting with him.

He accepted the meeting, and I was thrilled. When I actually went into his office a couple of days later to have our chat, that feeling subsided quickly. He’d made the assumption I’d requested this meeting to complain; apparently some other people before me had complained, and he thought I’d come to do the same. So, unfortunately, I had to spend a couple of minutes defusing this situation, explaining that I had really wanted to chat to learn about himself, and about his job. He was clearly taken aback by this, since obviously it was not what he expected.

This was my first lesson. If you request a meeting with anyone, be clear what you want to talk about. I didn’t do this, and the CEO’s assumption was I came to complain. It’s not a good start to any chat. In the end, it all turned out fine, but I’d learned my first lesson.

So, for my next C level (I use the term somewhat loosely) chat — this time with the HR manager — I did state a purpose. The meeting request I sent out had the subject ‘Nice to meet you’. It sounds like a strange subject when you’re setting up a meeting with someone in your own organisation, but unfortunately I don’t know all the people here (which makes me sad, because we’re really not that big an organisation).

This worked out really well. Because the subject of the meeting was now well-defined, there were no assumptions on either side and the meeting went rather smoothly. In fact, while I only scheduled 30 minutes, we actually talked for 2 hours! Which leads me to my second lesson: C level managers are perfectly willing to take time out of their schedules to have a conversation with their employees.

I felt like I was pushing boundaries by requesting meetings with these people from upper management. Turns out that they actually equally appreciate my taking time to have the chat, and to show sincere interest in the company’s operations and their jobs. They may be busy, but in the end they’re human beings just like you and I.

So, in summary here are my lessons (in reverse order):

  • C level management is available for a chat; just ask for some their time.
  • Make sure to frame the subject of your meeting to prevent assumptions and bad starts. (But this holds for any meeting.)

In all honesty, this doesn’t sound like a big deal at all. But I bet there are a lot of people who are intimidated by C level management roles, and even see them as a different species. This is most probably not the case — exceptions granted of course. Still, you will only find out if you ‘get over yourself’ and set up that meeting. Have that chat. Hopefully, you’ll be pleasantly surprised!