Why can’t and why shouldn’t new employees get to present to Senior Management?

Signed Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,

I am a big advocate of getting oneself in front of Senior Management so one can shine.  You need to get noticed in order to move upward. However, exposure to Sr. Management is a two edge sword.  Yes the upside is to show the Boss you are a star, but the downside is he might think you are an idiot.  There’s a lot of pressure in such a presentation and a lot can go wrong.  I don’t advocate exposing a new employee.  It’s especially risky for a minority (Asian American) employee.

Let’s backtrack a bit.  If you are a new employee but you are highly experienced, then such a presentation is probably beneficial.  But if you are an inexperienced recent hire, then you are not ready.

First, I applaud you for having the confidence that you think you can handle such a meeting.  I am sure you are smart and think you have lots of “out of box” ideas which the Boss wants to hear. No matter how smart you are, there is much you don’t know, and you don’t know that you don’t know.  A meeting with a Sr. Manager requires a lot of breadth and depth.  His/her purview is a much larger enterprise than you are seeing and he/she likely will have concerns you have no idea even existed.  In a free form discussion, you might come across simply as naïve and arrogant.  

Another issue is corporate culture.  In a prior blog, I wrote that working well within a corporate culture is a key to success.  You have to understand “how things work and how things are done here.”  Without this knowledge, some ideas may be doomed at the outset.  But you thought they want “out of the box” thinking.  They might say they do but quite often they don’t.  Plus if you want to lead a revolution you’ll need a lot of depth and experience to have the gravitas to argue your case. 

Why do I say it is more risky for an Asian American to make such presentations?  Besides making a business case you’ll also have to overcome group stereotype.  In general, Asian Americans are viewed as nerdy techies with weak social skills.  Asian Americans are regarded as “keep your head down types” rather than leaders.  Your presentation and follow-up discussion will either dispel or re-enforce the stereotype.  That’s a lot of pressure on not only you but, like it or not, you are representing other Asian American employees. 

I had been a Sr. Manager for many years and had been the recipient of many “employee exposure” type presentations.  Those that left me a favorable impression, I kept on my list of people to consider for future moves.  Those that left me cold are dismissed.  A negative impression is extremely difficult to overcome in your career!  When you get to present to Sr. Management, do your homework and make the most of it.  There are so few chances.

I recall my first chance, as a mid-level manager, to present to the Chairman of the Board.  It was a unique opportunity to talk about a controversial topic and therefore quite risky.  In the days leading up to the meeting, my people prep me and gave me a cigar for the event.  I don’t smoke.  In my company at the time, every member of the Executive Committee smoked cigars.  It’s one of those Corporate Culture things.  I was to have the cigar in my pocket for luck and I could be one of “the Boys.”  When I retired, I was cleaning out my desk drawer and I found that cigar.  It must have worked.