Myrna Soto details key strategies for CIOs to impact the board of directors

Oct 12, 2022
CIOIT Leadership

Myrna Soto, founder and CEO of Apogee Executive Advisors consultancy, illustrates how best to communicate with the board of directors, effectively present when the board asks you to do so, and prepare to become a board member.

Myrna Soto, Chief Strategy and Trust Officer, Forcepoint
Credit: Myrna Soto

Florida-based Apogee Executive Advisors consultancy specializes in corporate governance, technology risk management, and public & private board service, among other areas, and when Myrna Soto, the company’s founder and CEO, offers insight on how best to communicate with, and present to, the board of directors, people, especially technology leaders, tend to benefit, especially if the ambition is to ultimately become board members themselves.

“I have presented in the boardroom many times as the reigning executive in a variety of roles, and now I have the opportunity to be on the other side of the table to assist technology leaders like CIOs and CTOs who may be invited into the board to present,” says Soto, who has had many distinctions as a founder, CEO, board member, investor, former CIO and former CISO, among others. “The boardroom is becoming savvier to the impact that technology has on the business’ strategic outcomes, so CIOs and other tech leaders have the opportunity to demonstrate how impactful their work is to lead the technology, strategy, implementation, and execution for the company. And board members will want to understand the priorities, needs to endorse certain investments, and strategic advantages, whether it’s reinventing the delivery of a product or a service, or how data is used analytically for marketing purposes. At a macro level, board members also understand it’s hard for any industry or company not to be reliant on technology, and that gives a superior platform for technology leaders to be innovative and influential members of the management team in the boardroom.”

Building on that, as the expression goes, “Those who fail to prepare, prepare to fail.” Not only do those presenting to the board need to glean from previous presentations what level of detail the board understands about the technology landscape for the company, but boards expect CIOs to be up to date and aware of what technology initiatives are underway at competing companies, so any presentation has to thoroughly account for that as well. More often than not, says Soto, members serve on other boards so they’ll have many perspectives of different companies and different industries. “More often than not, they may make comparisons, so it’s important to be able to be in a position to respond,” she says. “It’s important to project confidence to not only know what is pertinent to your company, but how to be best positioned to succeed and execute differently than the competition.”

Soto recently spoke with John Gallant, enterprise consulting director with Foundry, about the evolving nature of how CIOs and technology leaders engage with the board of directors, and the tools needed to achieve best outcomes.

Here are some edited excerpts of that conversation. Watch the full video below for more insights.

On leveraging the board: Every boardroom is not equal. And when we say they are more tech-savvy, that comes with gradients. There are still board members, however, who aren’t technology experts or have the experience or depth to understand some challenges when it comes to technology adoption and changes. That’s not a criticism, but this is where CIOs and other technology leaders invited in the boardroom need to hone in on a skill to be able to present technical concepts in a very strategically placed business acumen so board members can make those connections. In some cases, the leader has an opportunity to either validate an assumption a board member has or change a perspective of how impactful a certain technology may or may not be. One of my favorites is being able to educate the board at the right level, whether they’re evolving an innovative platform or doing a large-scale refresh.

On preparing to present to the board: Study your board members. Get to know their backgrounds. It’s important to make certain connections to their experience and the content you’re providing so it allows them to connect the dots. So if you have a board member who used to be a leader in technology, that would be a great opportunity to build a relationship and a rapport. Be careful not to alienate board members either. Sometimes I’ve seen people who focus on one or two because they have a comfort level with the topic, or they believe their experience will allow them to understand it better, forgetting that some others may not follow as closely. That is a strong recipe for not getting invited back. You want to be a frequent presenter. And as a CIO, you’re running your own technology organization within an organization, which has many different functional components. Chances are you’re managing a balance sheet, so think of the financially related terms that will be important. Board member focus is about generating shareholder value, growth, and preserving the position of an organization, so you want to make those connections when you present. Put it all in highly strategic business terms.

On the dos and don’ts for CIOs: We live and breathe our profession and sometimes we have to stop using acronyms and technical terms, which are part of our day-to-day language managing technology teams. But be careful not to bring that into the boardroom. If you catch yourself, offer a nugget of knowledge. If you say, “ERP,” what does ERP really mean? You get an opportunity to educate the board without sounding condescending. Don’t assume your audience has the layer of detail that would make some of the concepts you present obvious. A lot of times, board members will just ask, “What did you mean by that?” and you have the opportunity to course correct. But if you have a chance to do it naturally, and provide that layer of perspective, it goes a long way. Also, if your corporate culture allows, it’s always wonderful to build relationships with board members outside the boardroom. If you have an opportunity, maybe one or two presentations in, have a sidebar conversation. Take advantage and what you’ll find is they end up becoming a good sounding board as you prepare for future presentations.

On becoming board members: What is important for CIOs to get an understanding about is the function of the board, why it exists, and its practices and principles of governance. It may sound obvious, but being able to execute on consent actions and formulate a consensus around decisions being made is important to understand. When you serve in the boardroom, you don’t work for the company, you’re not an employee of the company, but you represent the interests of shareholders and investors in the boardroom. Obviously, their goal is to help with strategic vision, to opine and lean on strategies and to approve large-scale investments and changes for the company. That all comes with a ton of governance principles.