IT leaders often find themselves called upon to address their companies’ boards of directors. For many, the boardroom is an alien environment, full of high-powered execs with
little affinity for technology. To succeed in this setting, CIOs must effectively convey
their wins, opportunities and challenges in helping achieve business goals. For tips on
wowing the board, we turned to some of the more board-seasoned members of the CIO Executive
Learn to prepare for board meetings and build relationships with directors during a teleconference offered by the CIO Executive Council from 4-5 PM EST on Jan. 13, 2009.
Know the players.
Jeff O’Hare is senior vice president of enterprise information technology at business
process outsourcing provider West Corp. At past employers he has researched board-member
backgrounds, then used this information to frame his presentations and follow-up
conversations. O’Hare focused his information gathering on areas like functional experience,
industry, company size and comfort with risk.
“When I was making a presentation to a board with heavy finance and operations experience, I
made sure to include an appendix of highly detailed financials and a snapshot of rolled-out
milestones directly from the actual project plan,” says O’Hare.
Develop ongoing relationships.
Pamela Rucker, vice president of IT at PSC, a privately held environmental services company,
holds regular pre-meetings with directors from the PSC executive board and representatives
of its ownership to learn their points of view. Rucker estimates she spends 20 percent of
her board interaction time in these one-on-one meetings. She also uses them to ask questions
and air concerns privately. “The actual board meeting can’t be the first time that you’re
telling the board about changes or plans, or they’re going to feel blindsided,” she says.
Rucker suggests using these meetings to sell your ideas prior to presenting them formally.
They also let you tell your story not only multiple times but in multiple ways. “Sometimes I
may have to present information three different ways in three different meetings in order
for everyone to get it,” Rucker notes.
How does Rucker get time with individual board members? Her face time with directors from
her own company happens in monthly IT Steering Committee meetings they attend. For members
from the company’s ownership group, Rucker watches for their particular interests during
board meetings, then establishes a rapport around those topics.
David Webb is former CIO of SVB Financial Group, where he is now chief operations officer.
He agrees that engaging the board isn’t just a quarterly, formal interaction. “You need to
want more interaction and find ways to do so. If you don’t, you won’t build that
relationship,” he says. Webb finds that access to board members becomes easier over time as
long as you have good reason to meet. “The first call is always the hardest. If you have
difficulty making a cold call, have the CEO clear the path for you,” he says.
Get feedback from a board buddy.
Twila Day, CIO at $33 billion food company Sysco, developed a sounding board within the
board. She pings select members prior to her presentations to preview what she wants to
share with the group. She developed this tactic after a one-on-one meeting with a new board
member who had a strong technology background. When a second member with similar experience
joined the board, Day asked if she could send both of them her presentations ahead of time
for their input. This peer review helps Day fine-tune her message, gives her fresh ideas
from technologically experienced board members and helps avoid last-minute surprises during
the actual presentation.
O’Hare’s objective in a board presentation was to get the right message across. “I typically
provided them with enough information to guide them to the conclusion that I wanted, but I
didn’t tell them my opinion right away,” says O’Hare. He found that buy-in was stronger when
members felt they contributed to the solution. O’Hare organized his slides using the SOAE
model (situation, opportunity, action, expected results) and never arrived at a board
meeting without multiple solutions to a stated issue or problem in his back pocket. “I could
demonstrate that an objective and thoughtful approach was used in resolving the problem,” he
says. “I also found that having different ways to solve a problem was a good way to prepare
for the eventual questions.”
Let Financials Do the Talking
In his board presentations at past companies, Jeff O’Hare, senior vice president of
enterprise information services at West Corp., included the following financial information
(usually in a one-page financial overview, with supporting details in later slides). All of
his finances were tightly aligned with the office of the CFO, and the financial team
validated the numbers. In some cases, O’Hare would present the high-level finances and then
let the CFO field the detailed questions, which showcased collaboration at the executive
team level and sent a powerful message to the board.
What a financial presentation should include:
- Impact to this year’s budget/P&L
- Impact to cash flow
- Impact to EBITDA
- Impact to net income
- CapEx and OpEx
- Return on investment and/or cost benefit analysis (CBA) with supporting details
- Revenue projections, margins, market analysis/competitive analysis, geographical
- Carrying costs on investments, if applicable
Get to the point.
As Webb constructs his board presentation, he asks himself, “How do I get my point across in
the first thirty seconds?” Day keeps her’s concise. “I lay the foundation and then, in
future meetings, I move forward with more of an update’ format,” she says. O’Hare used an
executive summary at the beginning to grab attention and then shared supporting information.
Emphasize profitability. The most important thing in any board communication is to tie it to
profitability and business value. “CIOs really have to think like a CEO and investors when
presenting to the board,” says O’Hare. “For example, it’s not IT cutting costs; it’s about
how this cost savings idea fits into the overall cost model and positively contributes to
competitive margin.” This is what board members want to hear about. At past employers,
O’Hare sent customized versions of his quarterly IT reports to the board. These reports
profiled technology objectives and successes and tied them to business value.
Involve your team. O’Hare involved senior team members (director-level and up) in prepping
for board meetings and providing input on the presentation. “My philosophy was that if they
needed to come off the bench, they needed exposure so they were ready,” he says.