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Getting Your Message Up

Getting Your Message Up

It’s unanimous. The boardroom is not the place to be an IT geek. But how exactly do you demonstrate that you are a great business leader, as well as a competent CIO?

Boards are important. They exert significant influence over the enterprise on behalf of shareholders and stakeholders. It's easy to say that CIOs must build board-level business acumen. After all, as board interest in IT grows, so CIOs must master the critical skill of interacting well with board members. But how?

Based on recent Gartner research with CIOs that have this board-level business acumen, the answer lies in careful preparation and work to build influence into the future.

CIOs who successfully interact with their boards demonstrate that they are either technology leaders with board-relevant business savvy or true business leaders who just happen to be in charge of IT

To best understand how to work with boards of directors, view the world from their perspective. Boards are interested in a limited number of subjects. Technology topics are viewed through the lens of board-relevant subjects, such as competitive advantage, risk assessment and management, financial performance, long-term strategic planning and operational health.

CIOs who successfully interact with their boards demonstrate that they are either technology leaders with board-relevant business savvy or true business leaders who just happen to be in charge of IT. They interact well with the board by focusing on four key activities.

1. Build board-level acumen. Communicating IT issues in a compelling way to the board means developing a better understanding of their mind-set. So how do they think?

The most important thing a board does is direct the activities of the enterprise for the benefit of shareholders and stakeholders. The role of individual directors is to protect the interests of shareholders and key stakeholders.

Although hard to generalize, directors as a rule seem to have a number of characteristics that affect how CIOs should interact with them. They are capable of, and prone to, making decisions quickly based on a focused set of information. So if there's a danger of them making the decision about the wrong thing, it's best to stay clear of the topic all together. Delivering your information in a targeted fashion will help the directors better understand it. Don't make them guess whether you are delivering good news or bad news. Be explicit, and don't take the chance they will guess incorrectly.

Surprisingly, directors may not know your industry all that well — and may not have read their board papers before the board meeting. Don't assume that directors understand your industry terminology, especially industry-specific technology terms. Try to offer a face-saving way out if things start to make one director or another particularly badly informed.

Directors have a reason for serving on your board. Understand a director's motivation for serving on the board, and determine how you can help fulfil those objectives. Directors will be judging you against their agenda: Are you a credible leader? Can they trust you to deliver? Do you function well on the executive team? Are you a business leader like them? Can you help move the enterprise forward?

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