Why and how to engage your leaders

As a CX leader, you're not the person in charge. In the end, that is someone from the management. So you have to take that into account in a CX program. You don't just manage and advise your team, you also do that with your managers. There is no one who is more important than the other, but you need to know exactly who the high-priority stakeholders are: those are the ones who matter most at that moment. As a CX leader, you need to figure out who that key stakeholder is and make sure you're working together. The better you understand your leader, the better you'll be able to empathize with and respond to the needs of all stakeholders.

I list the 3 best tips to properly involve your leader in your program here:

1. Provide good and relevant information

Communication is key. Without proper communication, it is impossible to build a good relationship. It's your job to provide your supervisor with the information that specifically meets his or her needs. This is information that helps him or her to perform the role of manager well and that supports the making of important decisions. Managers are busy and don't like surprises: the more you respond to them with adequate information, the better.

If you proactively provide relevant information, you build your own credibility and you help your managers to appear credible to their bosses. So it's important that you work on your business acumen. So that you understand what is important to them and how your CX program fits into the organization. That way, you'll build a solid working relationship with your manager.

2. Be helpful

Giving information is good, but think carefully about what you give them and why. You can't get away with 'I'll make a report out of it'. You don't convince people with that. The communication you give should be:

  • Goal-oriented: Think about why you're giving this report. Is it to raise awareness, to bring about a change, to get a decision or something else?
  • Targeted: make sure it's specific to your stakeholder.
  • Appropriate in terms of form and content: how does your manager want to receive the information? In a presentation, a spreadsheet, an action list? Don't make assumptions, just ask and you'll know.
  • Monitor for effectiveness: do you actually see a change in attitude? Has the communication had an effect? If not, change it. Adjust the way you communicate or report.

So make sure your communication style matches the way they like to receive their information.

Be helpful. Recognize that your CX program is just one of many programs and that sometimes you need to help them manage their time. This will help you build your credibility in case something goes wrong.

Don't confuse being helpful with being submissive. No manager expects their team members to blindly follow. Your manager does expect you to think along and take responsibility.

I know of at least one strategy that always works. The strategy of causing others to "stumble over the truth." This means that you're not going to say what customers say or what's hurtful to the organization. No, you let them discover it for themselves. Dan Heath himself explains how this works:

3. Be functionally disobedient

Managers are normal people. They may not have all the answers, but they too learn new things every day. Be sympathetic and realize that they also have work to do.

You don't have to do everything by the book. If your manager asks you to do something that you know isn't best for your manager, the organization, the team, and yourself, you should say so. Have the confidence to challenge decisions. Being able to say no to your manager helps you build your credibility.

Finally, some extra tips to increase engagement

  • Define the active role that top management has in your CX program and keep them engaged; shows that excellent leadership is important within CX and CX programs.
  • Have empathy for the top and realize that they have more limited information than you do and that they are constantly being pulled.
  • Support the board members: they may be new to their role and need extra (subtle) support to ensure they function well in their jobs.
  • Recognize that it takes time for people to change their mindset from a "doer" to a "leader."
  • Make it clear that the CX program or project is a means to achieve the organization's strategy and that the top managers are therefore the top project managers.
  • Know that they also have to advise, to the CEO and other stakeholders. So give an example of the business impact (preferably the ROI) of good individual and organizational competencies of your CX program.
  • Get rid of the idea that risk is bad news.
  • Focus on the business impact and strategic benefits of the CX program – the big picture – and reduce the level of detail in communication.
  • Build a sponsorship culture upwards and downwards: support each other.
  • If you know what drives your manager, you can better manage expectations.
  • Work on building credibility and trust.