Can You Talk CxO Language?

One of the biggest problems project managers have is that we know too much!

Our brains are full of the project details that are essential to stay on top of our game. The problem appears when our external audience (stakeholders, sponsor, clients) request information from us.  We have a very difficult time scaling all of that wonderful information for delivery.  

As we mature within our organizations, the work we do will lead us closer and closer to what we call the C-Suite – the executive level of our organization. There will come a day when we need to communicate to our executives, or maybe even the Board of Directors, about something that we are working on.

Communicating up to the CxO level is one area where we really struggle. (CIO, CEO, CFO, etc.)

As with any dialogue with anyone in our lives, if we don’t talk the same language the task at hand is extremely difficult.

My friend Gary Heerkins out of Rochester NY includes this language requirement in his chapter of our book “The Keys to Our Success’ when he talks about the importance of being ‘business-savvy’. Step one of understanding the big picture is to understand the language of the people managing the big picture.

So what’s CxO language?

  • Business Value
  • Return on Investment (ROI)
  • Net Income
  • Cash Flow
  • Cost Benefit Analysis
  • Internal Rate of Return (IRR)
  • Current vs Fixed Assets
  • Long Term vs Short Term Liabilities

The C-Suite thinks about the success of a company – at all levels and from many angles. But the most important key to success for them is the bottom line.

If you understand this, two things will happen: your dialogue with them becomes easier and you will be recognized as someone who ‘gets it’.

If this language is foreign to you or makes you uncomfortable and IF you aspire to a senior position within your organization, you need to learn how to talk this talk.

The solution is not an executive MBA. It is not three years of night school for accountants. It could simply be a 3 day course on financial management for non-financial managers. Two to three days on how to read a balance sheet and a profit and loss statement; how to calculate return on investment; how do create a cash flow statement. It could be an online program that will guide you through the fundamentals at your own pace. It could even be a coach or ‘tutor’ you can employ to get you over this hump. But you do need to get over this hump.

Remember, you do not need to learn how to be an accountant. You need to understand the ‘stuff’ that accountants produce. This is the ‘stuff’ that feeds the bottom line and this is what keeps our C-Suite up at night.

Understanding this language will do three things for you and your career:

  • you will stand out from others around you
  • your conversation with senior management and executives will be much easier and interesting
  • your path to a senior leadership position will be significantly easier to navigate

Can you talk the CxO language?


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1 thought on “Can You Talk CxO Language?”

  1. I agree with you whole heartedly David. However, please could you contextualize the same topic in a Public Service setting where profit is not the motivator and ROI is not financial? I would like to know how I can make my communications with CxO types more sticky.

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