How to Talk to C-levels about Quality Management

By ETQ on August 18, 2011

They call it the “elevator pitch”.  I find that kind of a silly notion, like you would be waiting in the lobby to ride the lift with any executive who pops in for work around 11am-ish. I would personally be thinking you would come off a bit like a stalker, talking business when the guy is still on his first latte.  I had a guy try to pitch to me in the bathroom once – it didn’t go over well. However, geography aside, getting the C-level (or C-suite) to pick up on your challenges and buy-into the Quality Management vision can be a challenge.

Here’s the hard truth – Quality isn’t that compelling to a C-level.  They have plenty of people (like you) who manage Quality and roll it up nicely into Manufacturing Operations reports, and they make their decisions and move on.  However, we know how important Quality is to an organization – it’s all in how you package it to the C-level.  Here are just a few ideas I come across when pitching to the “higher-ups”.

1.  Speak Their Language:  In short, don’t use “Quality terms”. As soon as you start talking about Corrective ActionsNoncomformances, and Audits – you’ve lost them.  You need to find the buzz words that mean the most to a C-level.  Money and Risk.  Find ways to illustrate how to influence the bottom line, or reduce the Risk of a product line.  Instead of saying, “Let me show you how we can save time on Corrective Action reporting”,  you can say, “Let me show you how we can save 100 man-hours a year and reduce manufacturing costs to $3 per unit.”

CAPA Joke about quality management2.  Charts and Graphs:  The Average CEO attention span is 20 seconds.  So is my 5 year olds attention span.  Coincidence?  Maybe, but the reality is, a C-level is busy and to keep their attention, you need to demonstrate the value in 20 seconds (or less).  Use Charts, Graphs and visuals to represent your progress in a succint fashion.

(if that doesn’t work, jingle these while you make your pitch – worked for my kids)


3.  Show Cross-Department Value:  Quality Management affects the entire organization.  Demonstrate how you can influence other areas of the business – Design, Marketing/Sales, Safety, HR, etc.  How?  Business Process Automation and Business Process Management.  Quality Management and EHS Management systems are particularly adept at workflow, and business processes.  Having a Quality Management System is nice for you, but having an Enterprise Business Process Automation tool is nice for the whole organization.  By showing how your methods and systems can translate to other areas of the business and show value and savings, you’ve brought your system to the forefront.

4. Be Willing (or Prepared) to Champion Larger Initiatives:  Sometimes, touting the wonders of your system can dig you a hole. If you manage to successfully get a C-level to notice your operation, you may get tasked with bringing it to the rest of the business.  This could mean time away from your Quality Management activities, and time dedicated to an Enterprise Business Process automation initiative.  In the long-term, you’ll be a champion, but be prepared to work for your goals.

So, maybe it’s not done in an elevator, but the idea is the same.  You have 20-30 seconds to influence a CEO/CTO/CFO/COO/COPD/iPOD that you can impact the business in a significant way, show them how, and demonstrate your system’s value beyond your department.  A tall order? Of course.  Worth trying?  Definitely!