11 ways CIOs can be more effective in the board room

CIOs need to do more these days than just align with their corporate business plans. Here are 11 ideas to help you be more effective with your board of directors and your CEO.

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In an era of digital disruption, CIOs need to be actively involved with their company’s business plan as more and more of the business becomes digital and software-based. According to Alan Murray, Chief Content Officer of Time Inc. and President, Fortune Magazine, the companies who attended last year’s World Economic Forum all said to him that they are now technology companies. Given this, CIOs that add business value must have a seat at the table with the rest of the business executives.

CIOs have told me historically that many CIOs never make it to the business table because they fail to speak the language of the business; and instead, continue to speak the language of technology. These CIOs most often find themselves pushed back under the CFO. Personally, I remember a former boss saying to me that to be an executive means one needs to move from a specialist to a business person. The CIOs that I work with regularly clearly have all learned this lesson. For this reason, I like to coach sales people that they too need to stop talking the language of technology and instead, talk the language of the business just like their customer CIOs.

Given this perspective, I wanted to get CIOs thinking on working with boards of directors. Here are their suggestions for their fellow CIOs.

  1. Build a strong relationship with their CEO first. Their CEO will know the board well and will be able to advise on board interactions including the appropriate level of detail.
  2. Do not “skip-level” the CEO in your process to learn what the board wants.
  3. Execute win-win initiatives for the board and staff where there is "something for everyone."
  4. Avoid tactical and band-aid solution discussions, don't solve yesterday's problems, and spin toward investment and opportunity.
  5. Don't talk tech. Talk business value if you want to succeed with the board.
  6. Make sure the board understands your vision, risks, roadmap, and progress at a higher level. In presentations, provide relevant data and detail but make sure these are aligned with driving business revenue and progress.
  7. Realize that the hard thing in presenting data to the board is knowing what level of detail is relevant. Often, you will have a mixed group where some want the trees and others want the forest.
  8. Where possible, have 1:1s with your board members. This will tell which board members need you to go deep, and which board members need you to stay strategic. Make sure to get board members buy-in before asking for a meeting. To me, knowing that certain board members want to go deep means it could be better for you to do a pre-meeting prior to the board meeting. This allows you to stay at the strategic business level in front of the entire board and CEO.
  9. Create a consistent presentation format for the board. I did this when I was the acting CEO for a startup. It helped me create consistency from board meeting to meeting. This matters for people that look at the business on an irregular basis.
  10. Don't sugar-coat technical issues, but avoid the blame game. Put issues in context and always show long-term thinking.
  11. Talk to the board, not at them; know your audience.

Parting remarks

There are some really good ideas here. Clearly, building the CEO relationship is a prerequisite to building an effective board relationship. With this said, there is a big opportunity if CIOs can truly garner broader business influence. There is much impact they need to have in an era of digital disruption. But this all starts by moving away from simple business plan alignment.

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