This article is based on a panel discussion at Staffing Industry Analysts’ CWS Summit North America last month in San Diego.

A mandate from the C-suite means everyone in the company, from the top down, will follow the rules and procedures of a CW program — even if they disagree with them. And this support is critical because it provides traction for CW program success, reduces resistance to expansion and enables eventual program maturity.

But how do you get top executives involved with, and supportive of, the program?

Different Paths

The CW program managers’ journeys to executive support had different catalysts and took different paths. Based on the panel discussion, we take a look at some of the motivations.

For starters, what grabbed the attention of the C-suite?

Data breach. A large data breach at home improvement retailer The Home Depot quickly brought executives’ attention to its contingent workforce program; it was a costly incident and a public relations disaster. On the bright side, the data breach drove the C-suite to push the CW program forward from a security standpoint. Kelly Coleman, director, talent acquisition and contingent labor, explained that it’s all about security, not process efficiency or cost savings. “Our C-suite drives it down,” he said.

Audit results. At Farmers Insurance, an audit in 2012 got executives engaged when an audit committee informed the CEO of major issues regarding a lack of governance around contractors. To pre-empt possible security issues, Koenraad Lecot, now head of contingent workforce management, was asked to build the program. “We had CEO support from the start,” he said.

HR transformation. Executive support for the CW program at delivery service provider UPS was not driven by a negative occurrence. Instead, it came from a transformation of the HR function. The revamping allowed all levels of leadership to be more open to change. Bryan McHugh, director, international human resources, taps support from UPS’ central leadership team and management committee which, in turn, provide more access to the company’s top leaders with ultimate accountability.

Budget query. And in the case of Bank of America, it was the board itself that came to the CHRO, asking for an explanation of a billion-dollar line item. “It’s a very simple question and it was a very complicated answer,” explained Clay Lewis, senior VP, contract labor and vendor executive (talent acquisition). The board’s interest in cost and transparency provided CW program leaders with an opportunity to bring transparency to the program and make recommendations to the CHRO — and ultimately the board itself. Information is now shared on a regular basis, and significant changes within the technology organization helped centralize the decision-making process.

Speak Their Language

Some topics will get the attention of the C-suite more than others, so program managers need to figure out what is most likely to sway their particular leadership.

Cost savings and efficiency drivers are important, as their effect on the bottom line is most apparent. However, when it comes to contingent workers, risk and compliance may be the most important areas to focus on. The repercussions of not addressing such issues can be deep and far-reaching in terms of financial cost as well as lost reputation. CW managers can act as subject-matter experts and liaisons between the C-suite and business operations, with knowledge of both the importance of security measures and the need to run a profitable business.

Another entry point for conversation to garner interest is competition. Feed the competitive nature of the C-suite executives by sharing what their competitors are doing to expand and develop their programs.

At the end of the day, it is the CEO and other top executives who must answer to shareholders, employees and the press. Ultimately, they are the ones left holding the bag, so it is in their best interest, as well as the firm’s, to be invested in a well-run contingent workforce program.