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The Language of Senior Management - A Whole New Way of Communicating


Marilyn Gettinger
Marilyn Gettinger, President, New Directions Consulting Group, Cranford, New Jersey 07016, 908-709-0656,

84th Annual International Conference Proceedings - 1999 

Abstract. Procurement staff working in organizations today continually strive to meet the objectives of the procurement function. A few of these are:

  • Managing supplies so that the company has what it needs when it needs it.
  • Buying focused on the best interests of the organization.
  • Purchasing at the lowest ultimate cost.
  • Continual upgrading of skills through education and the encouragement of others in the field to do the same.

Equally important is the commitment to bringing the newest ideas and concepts into the organization. Purchasing departments have greater access to the latest product ideas and concepts due to their relationships with suppliers, trade shows, and trade publications. This provides procurement personnel the opportunity to make a powerful impact on the bottomline of their organizations and also to provide that important competitive edge that helps the company outshine the competition.

This important objective often proves to be the biggest challenge to accomplish. This is not because the ideas, facts, and results are not available, but because the difficulty lies in

  1. Getting the attention of the important decision makers.
  2. Getting them to listen and understand.
  3. Getting their buy-in.

Purchasing staff not only must prepare proposals based on factual information, well documented facts, and proven results but must also present this information in an effective mode of communication, at the correct time, in the tempo, speed, format, language that will get the attention of the decision makers, and must also meet the objectives and goals of the organization and the decision maker/makers themselves. This calls for research, planning, and preparation. It is not enough to know the material. It is critical how the material is presented, and this may be just where procurement professionals fall short.

If purchasing personnel want to make an impact and have senior management accept and implement their suggestions then it is urgent to learn - "The Language of Senior Management- A Whole New Way of Communicating".

Preparing To Be Effective. Planning is power. Being successful in having ideas and suggestions accepted by senior management requires research, a knowledge of human relations and behaviour, an understanding of the organization and its goals and objectives, effective communication skills, and a thorough knowledge of the idea or concept.

Step 1: Needless to say, anyone who intends to suggest new ideas, concepts, and/or methods must thoroughly research the subject. It is critical to become the expert on the topic.

Step 2: Purchasing staff must have a clear understanding of the documented mission, objectives, and goals of the organization. This also includes any unspoken or hidden goals and objectives.

Step 3: Next, the question is who are these decision-makers? What are their objectives and goals for the organization? And just as critical to research is what are their personal career objectives and goals along with their need for emotional and ego stroking. It is important to remember the term WIFM - what's in for me. People are motivated positively or negatively by how events effect them.

Step 4: Through what channels can these decision-makers be reached? Who in the company has a close working relationship with the decision-maker and could help in getting a proposal accepted? How can this person/persons be approached for help? Is there a committee or a networking event within the company or outside the company which would provide an opportunity to get to know the senior manager or a trusted confidant? Who would be open to the proposal and is able to help navigate the obstacles to acceptance?

Step 5: What is the communication style/styles of the decision-makers? Procurement personnel need to be aware of the tempo, speed, level of detail, preferred method of communication (verbal, written, or kinesthetic), and choice of graphs and charts. This information may be gathered through the help of the senior manager's executive assistant and any inter-company memos written by the decision-maker.

Step 6: It is important to check the personality type of the senior manager/managers. Are they to the point, number crunchers, aggressive go getters, gruff, warm and friendly, achievers, affiliators, or influencers? All communication needs to fit the personality of the person that will be asked to decide on any suggestion or proposal. It is critical to use language and terminology that mirrors the person's way of thinking. Procurement buzzwords and terminology require translation into the decision-maker's language.

Step 7: The politics of the organization must be considered. The presentor must know who else should be included in the process, who could thwart the request, and who could help in some way to gain acceptance of the proposal. As above, the suggestions must be phrased to the personality and communication patterns of any of these sources of positive or negative support.

Step 8: Preparation also requires an awareness of all of the obstacles and and objections to the project and a prepared rebuttal to everyone of these concerns. This shows someone who has thought through a proposal and is capable of implementing and managing a project to completion.

Taking a look in the mirror. There are several ways that procurement staff can continually enhance their reputation through out the organization. This effort will pay off in the future in getting their ideas accepted.

Step 1: An aura of self-confidence and positive expectations is necessary both in verbal presentations and/or written proposals. Material should be presented to peers for evaluation and suggestions prior to presenting to the decision-makers.

Step 2: How can a purchasing professional create visibility within the organization and establish themselves as a respected expert? This may be accomplished through serving on important company steering committees, publishing in industry publications and in company newsletters, participating on the boards of organizations such as the local NAPM chapter, teaching, and making presentations in-house or at trade organizations.

Step 3: Purchasing personnel need to get involved in all aspects of their organizations proactively making suggestions to internal customers and contributing to the success of the organization. This creates credibility and a visibility through out the organization as someone who is interested in the success of the organization.

Step 4: All purchasing staff require a solution focused manner of thinking. Senior management expects (1) a clear, concise description of the problem, (2) several possible solutions, (3) the best solution out of the many and why that one is the best.

Step 5: Of utmost importance is learning to present information so that the other person sees the benefits of the material in light of his/her goals and objectives. This is about the listener not the speaker or writer. This is the reasoning behind studying the personality and interests of a senior manager or managers.

Pulling it all together. Once all of the research on the topic and decision makers has been completed, it is time to prepare the presentation and/or proposal to speak the language of senior management.

Step 1: Be prepared, be prepared, be prepared both with a thorough knowledge of the topic but also with a strategy on how to present the material based on research into the human factors and the goals and objectives of the organization and decision-makers. This is about meeting the goals and objectives of senior management - the primary customer of purchasing at this time. It is equally as important to be aware of roadblocks and difficult questions and to be prepared to respond quickly to such challenges. Knowledgeable, organized, and authentic are necessary attributes for the acceptance of purchasing's ideas and suggestions by senior management.

Step 2: The presentation and/or the proposal should be heavily sprinkled with action verbs and positive toned business words and must exhibit enthusiasm and confidence.

Step 3: The speaker must master the use of good eye contact skills and a strong, confident handshake. It is also important to match the tone, speed, and tempo of the spoken or written word to match that of the decision-maker/makers. Also, all people love to hear their name used in conversation and in writing. Thus, frequent use of names creates a positive relationship between speaker and the decision-maker.

Step 4: Posture must show a person with confidence in his/her credentials and ability. Body movements and positioning of the purchasing staff member should copy that of the decision-maker without being noticeable. This is called building rapport.

Step 5: The speaker should also dress to fit in. Form of dress also builds rapport with the senior manager. All people like to be with people who remind them of themselves. People trust those who are like a mirror of how they see themselves. If the senior manager wears dark colored suits, then that is the mode of dress for any meeting with this person.

Step 6: Women should speak in the lower range. A man's voice is still considered a voice of authority.

Step 7: The speaker should consider the best time of day and location in which to discuss his/her suggestions with a decision-maker and how much time will be needed. Then, he/she should prepare an agenda and follow it - beginning and ending on time.

Step 8: The language of power calls for precise, concrete, and memorable wording. It eliminates the need to ask for permission, apologize, or ask for approval. It speaks to change, and adds value to the visions and tactics of the executives to whom it is addressed.

Step 9: Suggestions speak the language of statistics, dollars, percentages, value creation, and the impact on the bottomline with plenty of proof and back-up.

Step 10: Effective presentations and/or proposals speak to the lingo of senior management not to the lingo of the purchasing department.

Step 11: Silence is a tool of power and should be used before noting a critical comment, between phrases, when new points are introduced, and between strong parallels.

Final tips for success with senior management. Without a knowledge of the audience, purchasing personnel may lose the opportunity to impact the organization. Equally important is persistance. Battles are won because of persistance. If the buyer has done sufficient research and both the buyer and his/her boss strongly believe in the project, then it is a matter of reviewing the above steps and formating the information in a more effective manner. Every "no" brings the project closer to a "yes" and provides more information and objections with which the purchasor can provide a solution. A "no" with an explanation gives valuable input on what needs to be resolved or corrected on the way to a "yes".

Getting even a little agreement is a win and when implemented successfully may open the door a little more and then a little more until the proposal is fully accepted.

The close of the presentation should include a recap of the proposal or suggestion, the next steps with real dates, and the who, how, when of follow-up, and the steps in checking with others and getting back to the decision-maker/makers.

Success in the language of senior management calls for "the rule of three"

  1. A knowledge of the audience.
  2. Enthusiasm for the subject.
  3. Preparation.


Book references:

Hoff, Ron. I Can See You Naked. Kansas City: Andrews and McMeel, 1992

Mazzei, George. Moving Up. New York: Poseidon Press, 1984.

Mandell, Ed.D., Phyllis. A Woman's Guide to the Language of Success. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1995.

Holton, Bil and Cher. The Manager's Short Course. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1992.

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