Think Tank: Winning the "Board" game

Think Tank: Winning the "Board" game

CIOs who don't present well or fail to engage their board of directors are at serious risk of derailing their career. Here's how to get board presentations right.


For any company executive, fronting up to a board meeting and presenting is a daunting challenge. You work hard all year but the board sees you only a couple of times during that time. You have to package everything you do in a brief presentation. CIOs have an additional challenge. Boards are rarely interested in technology. They don’t understand the jargon.

If you don’t present well or fail to engage the board, it does not matter how efficient you are or how good your proposal is. Worse, a poor impression may even derail a career. In such an environment engaging effectively with boards, making good impressions and getting that funding request approved can be a major challenge.

Every interaction with the board is an opportunity to demonstrate that you are a capable business leader

Over my career, I had to present to the boards a number of times in different companies. This article, based on my experience and that of colleagues, aims to provide guidance to CIOs and other IT executives who have to present to the board.

Understanding the role of the board of directors

Before starting to put together a board presentation, it is important to understand the role of company board of directors. The board chooses the chief executive and approves appointment of senior executives. The board’s role is to direct and control the company. The board must understand how proposed actions will impact the company’s performance. Direction setting includes overseeing strategic planning and major decisions. The control function requires that the board monitor the company activities, systematically managing risks and compliance.

In short, the board is focussed strategic planning, major decisions, performance monitoring, risk management and senior management capability. Typically, the boards don’t get involved in the details of execution, which is the responsibility of the CEO. Hence the board has to be satisfied with the capability of the CEO and his leadership team.

Every interaction with the board is an opportunity to demonstrate that you are a capable business leader; they can trust your judgement and have confidence in your ability to lead and execute. If the board trusts your business judgement, you will have greater influence and your recommendations will be viewed favourably. It’s an opportunity to shine but there is also the real risk of revealing your weaknesses. This just re-emphasises the importance of the interaction. The challenge becomes even more acute as a typical IT executive may only get one or two opportunities to get in front of the board. Typically board presentations are only 15 to 30 minutes or less. As a result, it is vitally important to get it right.

Board presentations fall into three categories:

  • First is the state-of-the-union. Here an executive is giving an annual update for the business unit.
  • Second is a request for approval for a new project or initiative.
  • Third is the please explain. The board wants more information on an issue / risk or event that could impact on business performance.

Board members are generally not technology literate. For technology investments, the CIO needs to demonstrate how the technology would improve business performance e.g. customer service, profits, revenues, compliance etc. They want to know if the benefits from the new initiative exceed the technology and implementation risks. The CIO has to satisfy the board that the risks are understood and effectively controlled.

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