Monday, October 03, 2011

Engaging the Board (of Directors)

If you want to get a seat on the Board of Directors, then you have to think like them; understand what drives them and how they take decisions. BoD is not interested in the micro details of various initiatives or specifics of the technology solution. The discussion is about how IT furthers the strategic direction and helps the company achieve its long-term goals and objectives. Does it improve revenue or bottom line such that it creates shareholder value ?

So went the discussion to which I had the privilege of being invited that was debating the need, process, and models to engage the Board of Directors by the CIO. The panellists comprised a consultant, a CEO, and a couple of CIOs. The audience of CIOs were keen to learn from the experience of the panel, tips, insights, any pearls of wisdom that would help them forge ahead. So what does the CIO need to do to get the attention or when s/he needs to present a new initiative, how to make a case compelling enough to attain approval quickly ? Do BoD really get into the detail ?

Over the last decade or so I have observed that they do balance the strategic and the operational. Depending on the context, they have a tendency to drill down all the way to the transaction or root cause; the next discussion could be about the next 5 year growth or an acquisition. The latitude of debate varies; the composition of most Boards is normally diverse with complementary skills to cater to such swings. So is there a checklist that helps in getting an audience to begin with and then a permanent invite ? Is there a timeline that can be cast ?

Few insights that did come across were that in new age high technology companies the CIO is indeed included by design. Younger CEOs are more likely to invite the CIO to the table considering their familiarity and usage of technology. Conventional and old age industries with a legacy or history are less likely (there are exceptions though). Despite constraints that may be cultural, evolutionary, or due to lineage, there are steps the CIO can take which are listed with some input of my own.
  • If you report to the CEO and s/he is not tech challenged, then take his/her help to get exposure with the Board
  • Engage with other CXOs who are already working with the BoD
  • Cultivate relationships with one or more Board members who are sympathetic to IT
  • Create an IT Annual Report that is also circulated to the Board
  • And the obvious one, talk about business and not technology even if you are the CIO of an IT company
 Despite this it is likely that your Board may be bored or uninterested in what IT is doing or how you the CIO plans to transform the business. You are walking the talk, you could keep pushing hoping that the message will get through or you convince your CEO make the pitch. But if none of this is happening, start looking where the grass is greener or be satisfied with what you have, you can always make lemonade out of it.


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