The HR team should play a pivotal role in guiding and influencing the C-Suite with important people decisions; however they don’t always enjoy a trusted relationship.

When it is time to create the people strategy, you could be forgiven for assuming that the HR manager will have a seat at the table; but this is not always the case. In larger organisations, there may be a HR representative in the C-Suite (Chief Human Resource Officer - CHRO), but in many businesses HR is unfortunately not represented at this level.

To enjoy a trusted partnership; there must be respect, effective communication and trust. In this context, trust means that the C-Suite:

  • value and respect your opinion
  • believe that you have the competence to advise and implement actions
  • feel that you operate with integrity and authenticity
  • know that you always have the best interests of the organisation front of mind
  • value that you will not just be a ‘yes’ person and will challenge when needed
  • respect that you ‘know your stuff’
  • are confident that you understand the company’s strategic goals and the needs of the customers, stakeholders and employee groups
  • appreciate that you can communicate succinctly and on task.

Who are the C-Suite?

The C-Suite, or C-Level, is a widely-used term to collectively refer to an organisation’s most important senior executives. These are the men and women that have the highest span of control across the organisation and are responsible for successfully delivering against the critical performance indicators and the strategic business plan.

The C-Suite gets its name from the titles of top senior executives which tend to start with the letter C. The Chief Executive (CEO) has the most senior role in the organisation and usually reports to a board. The CEO could be descried as ‘the captain of the ship’ and is ably supported by other C-Suite executives such as:

  • Chief Financial officer (CFO)
  • Chief Operating officer (COO)
  • Chief Information officer (CIO)
  • Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO)
  • Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)

These C-Suite positions usually come together as a whole of organisation leadership team where key decisions about the strategic and commercial direction of the organisation are made. This leadership team is commonly called the Executive Leadership Team (ELT), however different organisations will call it other variations such as the Senior Leadership Team (SLT).

Key Tips to build trust with the C-Suite Executive

Trust is something that is earnt and not given, so it is critical to ensure that all interactions are authentic and meet the needs of the C-Suite member. Unfortunately, there is not a secret recipe to build trust as every C-Suite executive is unique, however there are some recommended actions that will assist in the quest to build trust.

Know your audience Understand the style and preference of the C-Suite executive and take the time to prepare accordingly
Have executive behaviours Don’t get flustered or emotional. Be considered in responses and don’t feel the need to fill the silence with words. An effective communicator is one that is worth listening to. Role model the behaviours expected by all.
Be authentic Always be authentic. This means to be honest and to stay true to what you believe. Acting like you ‘love’ a new product or idea when you don’t will appear disingenuous and create suspicion.
Be prepared to ask tough questions Many employees will be too afraid to have an opinion that differs to the C-Suite. Building trust means sharing when you don’t agree and asking some tough questions to generate the right business outcome.
Arrive on time and stick to time Arriving on time for meetings and sticking to the timeframe builds trust and speaks volumes about your ability to communicate succinctly. Furthermore, it demonstrates that when you ask for ‘five minutes’ that is exactly what you mean.
Know your stuff Predicting the needs of the executive and being prepared with extra data if needed demonstrates competence. When you know the product, the issues, the marketplace and the competitors the C -Suite develop trust in your ability.
Build your personal brand If you want to be known as an expert in the topic discussed, then making unfounded statements will not support this. Carefully consider your desired personal brand and then reflect what behaviours and/or actions would be required to demonstrate this.
Connect personally Trust is built from relationships, so it makes sense to explore some common ground, such as sporting teams. Be careful not to jump into making personal comments about the executive’s family as this is high risk and may be received poorly.
Spend energy on demonstrating benefits Employees that try to ‘sell’ an idea to a C-Suite Executive can appear pushy or tacky. Instead focus on how the idea/product/project will benefit the organisation and why. Demonstrating a return on investment creates credibility and trust. Emotional selling can create suspicion or appear as desperate.
Keep personal agendas off the table Refrain from pushing an agenda that has a personal gain or benefit. This strategy is high risk and breaks trust. Always focus on the organisational benefit and what is in it for the executive.


How will I know if trust has been built?

When built, trust is something that benefits both parties and enables goals to be achieved in harmony. It is a precious commodity that needs to be earnt and once achieved should be nurtured. It can be difficult to know exactly when you have been successful in achieving trust from a C-Suite executive, but the following are some key indicators that trust has been reached.

  • Meeting times are upheld
  • Small talk commences over time
  • The C-Suite executive starts to show a genuine interest
  • The C-Suite executive asks you for advice and acts on it
  • The C-Suite executive confides in you or provides additional or ‘off record’ information
  • The C-Suite executive regularly goes over time in catch ups
  • The C- Suite executive asks the employee for advice on how to approach an external situation
  • You are no longer asked to leave the meeting during confidential discussions.

Trust creates relevance

There are few things more frustrating than a workplace relationship without trust. It makes work life unpleasant and generates barriers and obstacles that simply don’t need to be there. More concerningly, when employees are not trusted by the C-Suite, they can become irrelevant as their importance diminishes.

Trust may seem like it is out of reach, however there is no question that it will translate to a mutually beneficial relationship where the true business partnering can begin.

Further information

For assistance with your workplace matters, Members of Ai Group can contact us or call our Workplace Advice Line on 1300 55 66 77 for further information.

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