by Cio Executive Council

How CIOs Can Catch the Board’s Ear

Sep 26, 20134 mins
CIOIT GovernanceIT Strategy

Telling IT's story to the board of directors requires a business focus, a strong narrative and even a little humor.

Three IT leaders share their strategies for telling the technology story to the board of directors. In short, you need to be focused, compelling and straightforward — and a little humor doesn’t hurt.

Focus on the Business Pain Points

Kent Mills, CIO, Wakefield Canada: As a privately owned company, Wakefield Canada has an advisory board of seasoned executives who offer us an unbiased perspective on how we’re running our fast-growing business. While they might not technically have the power of a public board, they play a critical role, and you ignore their valuable input at your own risk.

I communicate with these advisers in much the same way as I do with our senior leadership team, though at a slightly higher level. Whether it’s plans for our upcoming ERP implementation or mobile CRM solution, I focus on what the pain points are in our organization and the methods we can use to soothe them, such as streamlining processes or implementing paperless signup for new customers.

There’s a tendency to want to prove you’re the smartest technologist in the room, but the real value is in proving how your work directly affects business objectives. That’s why we call our team Business Technology, not Information Technology.

Even though I’m not looking for a yea or a nay from the board, I treat it as if I am. It’s been beneficial to build relationships with board members outside of the quarterly meetings, engaging them in business and technology discussions at events or conferences. They bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the table, and I want to take full advantage of it.

Tell a Compelling Story

Peter Rowe, Veteran communications officer: I tell CIOs that articulating IT value is all about telling a compelling story, and their meetings with the board of directors should be a crystallization of that story. We begin by presenting to the CEO, telling the story in the language of the business. CEOs, board members–they’re incredibly smart people, but they’re not technologists.

We look at a number of corporate dynamics and the overall climate in which we operate. What are the macro industry trends? What do our customers need or want? What are our rivals doing? We gather internal documents, publicly available information and interviews with stakeholders to flesh out the narrative. At its heart, it will be a technology story, but we package it in the day-to-day issues of the business.

The CEO typically has a pretty significant voice in whatever content we take to the board. Invariably, we’re working the weekend before the meeting to adjust the presentation based on the CEO’s input, which always leads to a better product.

Then you take your story to the board–the Super Bowl of corporate communications–and tell them how IT is staying ahead of the trends affecting the business. You can then use that story to build out communications for customers, business partners and employees to make sure everyone understands the strategy.

Be Straightforward and Inject Some Humor

Charlie Weston, Vice President and CIO, Bloomin Brands: Every board has a different vantage point when it comes to IT investments. Public boards are mandated to protect shareholder value, while private boards represent the owners. And a private equity board is focused on ensuring that capital spending gets the company where they want it to go, which sometimes may mean re-emerging as a public company.

At the end of the day, however, it all comes back to whether IT is doing the right things. You’re not just presenting to the board; you’re selling IT.

You must project an air of confidence–the board members may not understand the details of the technology investment, so they have to trust that you do. You also need to be flexible; if they say you’re going on at 10 a.m., you probably won’t present until after lunch. You should be succinct.

Typically, I like to really wring out the ambiguities and make IT strategy as straightforward as possible–IT is likely not the most important thing the board will hear about today. If you think you’re at the right level, take it a little higher. Finally, be funny if you can. Board meetings are long, and IT can seem dry. Find that one little thing that can lighten up the meeting. It doesn’t all have to be intense.

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