7 strategies for optimising interactions with board members about technology.

These strategies have been compiled from interviews with CIOs and board members.


#1 Communicate consistently.

Some directors complain about the ad hoc nature of interactions with technology leadership. Having a consistent presentation framework or scorecards and showing quarterly progress on agreed-upon key metrics can allow the board to quickly digest and react to technology topics and changes, especially during a jam-packed board meeting.

#2 Provide ongoing development opportunities.

Many board members have access to basic technology training and awareness but lack an understanding of practical business and industry applications. Many appreciate the topical, technology-related board development activities they get from management, especially in the context of an existing technology experiment. Also popular with directors is the three- to five-year outlook for technology trends and their specific business implications.

#3 Zoom out, zoom in.

The zoom-out, zoom-in approach challenges the conventional strategic planning horizon of one to five years and instead concentrates on two very different horizons: 10 to 20 years (zoom out) and six to 12 months (zoom in).

The zoom-out horizon focuses on powerful and predictable trends likely to affect the business and industry, allowing CIOs to engage board members on long-term opportunities and the future business trajectory.

The zoom-in perspective focuses on two to three business initiatives that could have a significant short-term business impact. CIOs and boards can work together on an ongoing strategy for balancing business objectives and resources across both dimensions.

#4 Seek the board’s counsel on growth strategy.

As current or former high-level executives, many board members are comfortable with strategy conversations and can provide valuable feedback and suggestions. Many have extensive industry and customer experience and can be the conduit to industry and ecosystem partners. When shaping the organisation’s technology-driven growth strategy, leverage their knowledge and experience.

#5 Embrace calculated risk-taking.

Many board members acknowledge that the rapidly changing technology and business landscape mean every organisation will need to make calculated technology bets on the future. Avoiding large technology investments for fear of failure can lead to obsolescence. CIOs can engage with the board to discuss potential large investments and their impact on the business.

#6 Stay ahead of the talent game.

A-players will not work for B-leaders. Many directors describe using detailed, talent-related conversations with technology leaders as a barometer for leadership capabilities. A technology leader’s ability—or inability—to attract top talent could be viewed as an indication of leadership skills.

#6 Present a unified front.

It’s important for management to present a unified front to the board in terms of technology messaging and content. A management-level technology committee can help align business leaders so that the board and its committees and subcommittees only review materials that have been vetted internally.

#7 Keep discussions strategic with metrics and elevator pitches.

Include balanced scorecards and consistent operational metrics with established thresholds and risk markers in meeting pre-reads to allow for more discussion time. Some board members suggest creating a slide, handout, or chart to boil down a complex idea when discussing it. To help keep conversations at the highest level, consider developing elevator pitches for key issues. An elevator pitch can condense a large amount of technical information into a few succinct, salient points.


Extract: Wall Street Journal; Advice From the Boardroom: A CIO’s Guide to Engagement.