(Intranets2011) "Ask an Executive" – Chrissy Burns, Blake Dawson

Chrissy is the Director of IT and Knowledge at Blake Dawson, a law firm. They have just gone live with their SharePoint based intranet. Chrissy presented the “Ask an Executive” session at Intranets2011.

Key points:
– Chrissy’s day is filled with meetings – across many different areas. For people approaching Chrissy with ideas, they need to remember that executives are very busy – with huge demands on their time.
– Chrissy likes to see an agenda for the meeting (they are prepared), they make it interesting, and continual checks on attention and relevance.
– Stakeholders are from many groups across the firm, but there isn’t just a single “stakeholder” from each group. You need to cultivate stakeholders – through communication, through relationship over time, etc.
– Make it easy for the executive to communicate with others – draft emails for them, give them summary sheets of what to say with key messages.
– The Business Case is a critical document to get right – project overview, risks and dependencies, relevant background information, the proposed solution, cost and relevant budget provision. Make it relevant to the Executive – write it for them.
– Meet with all the Executives one-to-one before the decision meeting. Don’t rely on the formal decision making meeting for doing this.
– Keep sponsors up-to-date – but don’t use detailed emails. You need to know (a) how they like to get information, and (b) how they process information. Talk with their PAs – they will help.

Questions and Answers
Q. Lawyers don’t like change. How do you deal with this?
A. Lawyers are trained to think critically. They will explore every option. You have to build communication and relationship to influence them. Talk about what other law firms are doing (lawyers don’t want to be left behind). Talk about what other lawyers in the firm said and where they supported things.

Q. How do you balance strategic and tactical initiatives with executives?
A. It’s different for every organization. One approach is to start simple, and then work for bigger things over time. You have to paint the bigger picture.

Q. What’s the role of story telling with executives?
A. Stories are always effective – if you have concrete examples. Focus it on the frustration situations.

Q. If an Intranet Manager doesn’t have an Executive sponsor, what do you do?
A. Chrissy believes that few executives would be unwilling to listen to an idea, and respond with feedback. You should also talk to more junior people on the executive’s team, so you can understand their issues … and how the intranet might help.

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