There will be times when we are asked to make a presentation, provide a case briefing, or provide information as subject matter experts. When this request comes from our leadership, most investigators sense an opportunity to get some "face time" with the bosses. I agree this can be an important time, one you can seize to help your career.
Investigators often ask our advice about how to best approach these meetings with executive management. Some investigators see this "face time" as an opportunity to advocate for their unit or even themselves. They like to have a strategy for presenting the information and anticipate questions management will ask.
While preparation is the key to any successful endeavor, it is easy to fall into the trap of presenting information meant to persuade management to make a decision that will benefit us somehow. While there are times that persuasive presentations are tasteful and even expected, people who make persuasive briefings start to commit some fundamental errors that are likely to disenchant their superiors.
Persuasion is most potent when a presentation tips information in favor of the person making the point. This favoritism means we can start to highlight information we find beneficial to our cause while skimming past details that might hurt our cause. The result is a briefing or presentation that provides incomplete information that is biased at best and deceitful at worst.
Executive managers value information, and they don't care whether something seems positive or negative to you; they want all of the information they need to make intelligent decisions. Often, the best decision for the agency is not the decision you are seeking. Persuasive presentations are often shortsighted, failing to produce benefits that will keep the organization you work for healthy.
It is a fact of life that your agency and its needs are more significant than the needs of a single unit or person. For this reason, the best attitude you can take during presentations is to present leadership with all of the facts. The more you know about the topic, the better. Leadership will be more impressed and value your input more if you make it a regular habit to present correct and complete information, no matter how it reflects on you or your unit.
Executive management often has additional information of which you are not aware. Your job is to bring everything you know to the table and let management weigh the data. Going into a meeting with too narrow of an understanding of a problem or its solutions can place you way off the mark when you realize that you don't have critical parts of the problem that would have led you to a different solution.
There are ways you can be persuasive and informative. It's okay to tell management what would benefit your unit and how it would benefit the agency as a whole. But, it is always essential to include the costs and challenges your solution entails. This kind of critical thinking displays your analytical skills and will make you a more valued and influential employee.
Executive management has been around the block a time or two. They know shortsighted or incomplete information when they see and hear it. If the investigator presents incomplete or biased information intentionally, then leadership will not view you as a reliable source in the future. If you routinely provide complete information without any personal interest or stake, you will likely gain the benefits other people are trying to get through their attempt at persuasion.
There is a popular business concept called "leading from below," which is often misunderstood—for many, leading from below means trying to manipulate information or work that will move your supervisor in the direction you want. Leading from below is more effective if you provide information that buys you influence for future decisions. However, your ideas and goals usually have less significance to the agency than goals that support the agency as a whole.
Of course, some decisions are valuable to the agency that your leadership might not see. In these cases, it is a great idea to "persuade" leadership into making a specific choice, but the investigator should do this by presenting complete information. Leadership will investigate your proposition, seeking to understand consequences, positive or negative, that will result from their decisions. If you do your research, presenting the information they were going to look for, you will have proven yourself a critical and strategic thinker they can trust.
Interacting with leadership is an opportunity. It is your chance to show them you are a strategic thinker whose ideas they can trust. Don't blow this opportunity by being shortsighted or pushing your agenda.