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10 tips for CIOs presenting to the board of directors
Presenting to the board of directors is an opportunity for CIOs to shine. Waters Corporation CIO Brook Colangelo shares best practices to help you succeed
When CIOs get the opportunity to present to the board, they should prepare as if they are going to testify before Congress. In fact, in my experience, it's not much different.
Between 2009 and 2012, I was the CIO for the White House under the Obama administration. During this period, I had the unique opportunity to present in the ultimate boardroom setting – testifying in Congress. Today, in addition to my role as CIO of Waters Corporation, I also serve as a board member of ISO New England, an organization that protects the health of New England’s economy and the people by ensuring the constant availability of electricity.
Together, these opportunities have given me insight and expertise into what it takes to present effectively to the board: how to prepare, deliver, and ultimately maximize the opportunities that board memberships provide.
These takeaways aren’t unique to CIOs serving on boards only; the skills I’ve learned and the observations I’ve gathered transfer to my everyday experiences as a CIO in a corporate setting too.
[ What’s next for the CIO role? Read CIO role: Everything you need to know about today’s Chief Information Officers. ]
Presenting in the boardroom is an opportunity for CIOs to shine. Here’s what I’ve learned about excelling in that environment through my own experiences.
1. Fully understand the board’s role
In corporate environments, a board’s purpose may be to explore how to grow or enable the company; assess the company’s risks; consider how to affect customers and provide a positive experience; or how to enrich the employee’s experience. Sometimes, it’s all of those. Understanding the role and the purpose of the board and the meeting is critical to the conversation: It dictates the thought-provoking questions you’ll need to ask to help think through strategies. But let’s be clear – the Board does not control the tactical level of the budget or operations. That is what the CEO, CFO and management committee handles – so have realistic expectations.
2. Consider the context in which you’re meeting
Are you talking to the board because a problem happened? Or are you meeting with the board to discuss your IT strategy, your growth roadmap, and how IT will enable it? If it’s the latter, for example, you and your business partner must already be in sync; you’re not discussing an IT strategy nor are you discussing a business strategy — it’s a combined strategy.
At Waters, digital is core to the future of the company, which means board members are eager to hear what IT is doing to drive revenue, improve customer experience, and increase employee satisfaction. Certainly, the board wants to know what IT is doing to secure the enterprise and be more efficient, but given the increasing role digital is playing at Waters, I’m always impressed with how interested board members are in learning about our strategy.
3. Rehearse tough questions
When I had to testify before Congress, I participated in what the military calls a “murder board.” These were significant, multiple-round oral examinations in which colleagues asked me the toughest question they could think of so I could rehearse my answers should they be asked in Congress. This is a great way to prepare for meetings: have colleagues play the role of your company’s HR chair or audit chair, for example, bring in your leadership team or anyone else whose advice you trust, and think through the answers to the most challenging questions.
4. Share details strategically
Determining how much detail to provide to the board and how to engage them in conversation is a delicate balance. You want them to feel part of the transformation and comfortable with it, but you must also remember that they’re an oversight organization and are not living in the day-to-day like you and your colleagues. Because these boards are made up of CFOs, CEOs, and even CIOs, they have a lot of experience in many other situations, so tap them for advice, too. I also find it helpful to know their bios and I keep an Evernote of their Linkedin profiles to review. This information gives me more context into how they might make decisions based on past and current work experience.
It’s also critical to know your audience so that you can address board members at the right level. In many cases, your board members may not have a technical background, so you’ll want to tailor the message to practical applications that business leaders will be able to relate to.
5. Sharpen your storytelling skills
Develop an arc to a story that showcases the impact rather than the logistics. This is so critical for the board to understand a transformational agenda. It’s no longer, “Hey, let me tell you about this one big project and you’ll never see me again in my career here.” It’s more about, “Let me tell you where we are in this journey.” And you will want to set the expectation as to what you will need from them along this journey. That’s exactly what it is — a journey and a path forward that we need to continue to iterate on.
6. Read the room
Watch the body language of other board members to gauge whether they’ve lost interest. Sometimes involving them in a more strategic conversation will help, or simply pause to ask, “How’s this going? Does this resonate with you all or have I missed something?”
7. Understand questions fully
By nature, CIOs are detailed in how they think about executing and delivering value to the company. When you’re asked a question, it’s helpful to reframe or repeat the question to make sure you answer it appropriately. Otherwise, for example, you may dive into an answer that is very specific to you when they might be seeking an answer that applies to the broader company.
8. Don’t take critical feedback personally
Sometimes feedback is constructive and sometimes it isn’t. Rather than take it personally, consider any feedback a gift. We are all living, breathing beings who are constantly evolving and getting better. If you want to be a better leader, manager, boss, friend, husband, or wife, embrace the feedback and act on it.
9. Hone in on the positive
You may be in a position where your board only wants to discuss security and risk, which you can always reframe into the broader business context. Security can enhance the business, and your job is to help the board understand that security is almost like a platform layer across the entire company, which is actually part of their sales process.
10. Use it as a mentoring experience
Involving your staff in developing the board material, inviting them to join as members of the murder board, or even bringing members of your staff to a board meeting are all opportunities for mentorship and sharing the value of all the above.
Ultimately, though, remember that going in front of the board of directors is an opportunity for you to really shine and empower people. This is your chance to show the tremendous role technology can play in transforming your company landscape. Take these best practices — and others you may have learned along the way through your own experiences — to make your presentations in the boardroom stand out.
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