Working With and Communicating to the Board of Directors

Working With and Communicating to the Board of Directors

CIOs discuss their tactical play in the boardroom

The IT leaders who make up the CIO Executive Council are finding themselves more often called upon to address the boards of directors at their companies. For many this is an alien environment, full of high-powered, short-attention-span executives with little affinity for technology. CIOs want to learn how to be more effective in their communications with the board and improve their success in conveying the challenges, opportunities and successes in helping achieve business goals that their department offers. We turned to some of our more board-seasoned members for insights in wowing the board.

Know the players

Jeff O'Hare, senior vice president of enterprise information technology at business process outsourcing provider West Corporation, researches the background of each board member and then uses this information to frame his board presentations and follow-up conversations. O'Hare focuses his information gathering on areas like functional experience (e.g. marketing, finance, technology, and venture capital); industry (primary industry affiliation and other industry influences); company size (experience in a start-up, mid-market, Fortune 500 , non-profit and/or educational institution); and comfort with risk (risk taker or more conservative, especially regarding growth strategy).

"For example, 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.

It's also wise to learn the director's particular hot buttons--what particularly gets them riled up and what are their sweet spots, adds Marc West, former CIO at tax specialists H&R Block. West recommends the CEO as a good source for backgrounds on the board members.

Develop ongoing personal relationships

Pamela Rucker, vice president of IT at PSC, a privately held environmental services company, holds pre-meetings with individuals from the PSC executive board and representatives of the PSC ownership to learn about their points of view. She also uses the pre-meetings as an opportunity for them to ask questions and air any concerns in a private setting. Rucker estimates spending 20 per cent of her board interaction time in these one-on-one meetings. Due to their regularity, she can then treat the formal board presentation as more of a status check. "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. The same holds true for any other senior management group--you should sell your ideas prior to presenting them formally. It also helps to tell your story not only multiple times but 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.

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