Implementing Innovation by Mastering CEO-Speak

Say What? How Mastering CEO-Speak Can Help Lead to the Successful Implementation of Your Innovation

Implementing Innovation by Mastering CEO-SpeakRobert’s Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival lays out ten key imperatives to help businesses create a structured, repeatable innovation process in order to successfully deliver growth through innovation in business. Piggybacking upon this fundamental framework, the newly published Robert’s Rules of Innovation II: The Art of Implementation provides a roadmap for success through innovation by demarcating the elements that must be present to properly execute the ten imperatives to innovation.

As discussed in Robert’s Rules of Innovation II, mastering CEO-speak is one element that can help innovators see their new ideas that they’ve researched and proposed actually acted upon by their company’s top management and most senior leaders—the C-suite. Also known as the “suits” (often of the very expensive European or bespoke variety), these senior leaders usually have many positive attributes, but as disenchanted innovators will tell you—they also can have a difficult time pulling the trigger on a new, innovative idea or direction for the company.

So what exactly is CEO-speak? According to Robert’s Rules of Innovation II, CEO-speak is “quite simply…the language of C-suite executives. Mastery of this language is a pathway into their hearts and minds. Your abilities in this area can mean the difference between a home run and a strikeout.”[1]

Imagine this scenario: you’re about to step into the elusive executive conference room at your company to pitch your innovation to the bigwigs. You’re shaking in your boots/Air Jordans/freshly-shined brogues, hands are clammy if not dripping wet, and your breakfast of innovation champions (three dopio espressos and some rogue almonds you found loose in your desk drawer) is precariously churning in your stomach. You’ve put in the hard work, which likely was after hours and off-the-clock, as the majority of companies don’t give their employees set aside time in the workday that allows them to innovate in ways that interest them but don’t always fit into their set work projects and job descriptions. Your moment is now; don’t let it slip away.

As mentioned in Robert’s Rules of Innovation II, “I have been told by the disenchanted innovators—the C-suite executives can have a hard time pulling the trigger on a new direction or a refreshing innovation. The disenchanted innovators I hear from boldly give their presentations—which are loaded with facts, figures, and details—see the heads in the room nodding, seemingly in agreement, and then (they tell me, mystified) … nothing happens.”[2] So how does one get their company to follow through on the new directions one has proposed and research—to take action on their idea and actually implement the innovation?  One effective way to increase the chance of such follow-through and implementation is to master the language of CEO-speak to convince top management to support your innovation.

Here’s an abbreviated version of how to speak their language. If you want to learn even more on this topic, check out Chapter 3 “Master CEO-Speak” in Robert’s Rules of Innovation II.

Consider Your Timing

  • As they say, timing is everything.[3] You’ll have a better chance of success if your proposed innovation is in congruence with current organizational imperatives. It is prudent to propose an innovation that sharpens a CEO’s company visions or at least an element of the program that fits in with the CEO’s paradigm. For best results, you many need to sit on your idea until this occurs or tailor your idea so that it compatible with your company’s current business imperatives.

Build Consensus

  • Instead of trying to sell your idea to the C-suite in a one-shot, intensely pressurized presentation to your bosses, you’re more likely to achieve success if you build organizational consensus well ahead of your “one-shot-is-all-you-got” pitch. You’ll want to garner support for your program from a wide array of your company’s internal constituencies—when you have sponsors from people who have different functions within the company, your idea will gradually build sensibility and create an air of inevitably in order to propel your project forward with a strong internal buffer zone intact.

Communicate Clearly and Regularly

  • Once you’ve built your army of internal sponsors, you’re going to need to keep them in the loop. Share frequent progress reports on your project and “[i]nvite your new internal stakeholders to gain an ownership interest in the program by inviting their participation when creating the completed plan.”[4]

Manage expectations:

  • Sure, you may be amped up for your project after gaining internal consensus and an involved sponsor network, but don’t get carried away. Show how your project aligns within your company’s current business imperatives, but don’t throw around hyperbolic and unrealistic metrics about revenue projections and market share. It’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver. Don’t make a big internal announcement, sabering champagne bottles and throwing confetti out the office windows in overt celebration. Fueled by your overwhelming excitement, you may be tempted go screaming through the streets/rows of office cubicles. Don’t do it. Be patient. Embrace subtlety. This is the time to “run silent, run deep.”

The Devil Can Sometimes Be the Details

  • Sure, you may have crunched every number, analyzed every metric, and made countless spreadsheets and projections and growth charts. This thoroughness is of course important, but you don’t need to throw all this information out there the first time you pitch your presentation. Don’t get down to every nitty-gritty weed on every single tree, but rather focus on the forest instead. Details can cause paralyzing bottlenecks, so instead concentrate on a topline overview and showing how your idea is in congruence with current corporate strategy


  • “Keep it Short, Stupid.” Your elevator pitch should be one to two minutes long, focusing on topline elements and not an avalanche of executional details and analytics. Come prepared with a list of thoughtful, honest questions to ask the CEO and then open the meeting up to questions. Likewise, before the meeting, you should anticipate what tough questions you are likely to receive and come prepared with concise, non-defensive answers.

What Would Jimmy Stewart Do?

  • The famous actor Jimmy Stewart was known for his down-to-earth persona and straight-shooting ways. Harness your inner “Jimmy Stewart” when pitching your idea. Trim the fat, all the jargon, and obsessive details. You want your presentation to be straightforward and easily understood by someone who is mainly concerned with the big-picture themes and has both limited time and a limited attention span.

There is No I in Team

  • Sure, the idea you’re about to present may be your personal idea, your precious baby. But your presentation must focus on the innovation you’re presenting and the person to whom you’re presenting. You don’t want your audience focusing on the presenter, no matter how brilliant and dynamic of a presenter and personality you may be. It’s not about you; it’s about the purpose of your idea, how it aligns with the company’s strategic direction, and what it can ultimately do for the company.

Last but not least understand what is important to them, use of existing assets, capex spend, growth and marketshare…all the things they worry about.

To learn more about how to master CEO-speak as an effective strategy to increase the chances of your idea becoming a reality, check out the new innovation in business book Robert’s Rules of Innovation II: The Art of Implementation.


[1] Robert’s Rules of Innovation II: The Art of Implementation (See p.44)

[2] Robert’s Rules of Innovation II: The Art of Implementation (See p.44)

[3] To learn more about the interplay of timing and innovation, check out these two previously published posts on this blog:

“No Instant Coffee Here: What Starbucks Teaches Us about the Importance of Timing and Innovation (Part 1 of 2)” and “A Slow Brew: What Starbucks Teaches us About the Importance of Innovation and Timing (Part 2 of 2)”.

[4] Robert’s Rules of Innovation II: The Art of Implementation (See p.48)