First, be clear and succinct in your presentation (both written and oral.) Your paper and presentation are just one of many that a governance board may address in a single board meeting and there may often not be a lot of time for them spend on every item on the agenda. The message for you then if you are presenting an item to the board is don’t waste their time! Poorly written papers full of hyperbole and motherhood statements that waffle on and from which it is hard to extract what is being proposed and why, don’t stand much of a chance of getting approved.
Second, let's talk about salesmanship – and make no mistake – when you are asking a board to approve something you are in sales mode. Assuming that your paper is clear, concise and well structured, you still have to convince the board at the meeting that what you want is worth approving. Unprepared presenters who don’t inspire confidence can derail a good paper. Likewise, if you attempt to compensate for a poor paper with hyperbole, obfuscation and over the top salesmanship you will likely get found out. In short, state your case clearly and concisely, be well prepared to argue it persuasively without bullshit and you stand a decent chance!
Third, know your audience. Given that you are in a sales exercise you need to know who the board members are and what will resonate with them. If for example the board members are very risk averse and you try to sell a grand vision without focusing on how you will manage the risks you may get an undesirable result. Conversely if the board is looking for a significant breakthrough and you present a “me too” approach you might not get them engaged to support you.
It never hurts to prime the pump by covering your paper off with key board members before you get to the meeting to get them on your side. The meeting can then become a formality.
In short, know whom you are selling to and make sure you give them what they are looking for.
Fourth, understand the environment within which you are operating. If for example your organisation is currently tight on cash, now might not be the best time to ask for a significant investment regardless of how good you think your case is.
Be prepared to be challenged. That’s a Board’s job.
I have also seen instances where a great idea argued well did not get approved because it was just too big of a stretch for a board to get its head around conceptually or the board was just unwilling to accept the scenario being painted. It hurts when you know that you have your hands on a winner that doesn’t get approved, especially when you are subsequently proven right, but timing can be everything. Disruptive innovation can be hard to sell. Being a little bit ahead of the curve is good. Being too far ahead might not be. In short, pick your time.
Fifth, be prepared to be challenged. That’s a Board’s job. Don’t take it personally. Put yourself in their shoes and try to envision the likely questions that an unfamiliar party might ask of your presentation. Prepare answers to those questions in advance. If you don’t have answers, say so, but also explain how you will go about determining them or mitigating the risks implied be the questions. A good response that shows how you will manage what you don’t yet know can sometimes be enough to get you conditional or limited approval with full approval to follow subject to conditions being met.
Finally, sometimes no matter how good a job you do, your proposal might not get approved for reasons that you are not completely aware of. Those reasons might be commercial, political, or something else that the board has a wider view of than you do. If you are turned down, ask for feedback, not only on your proposal but on the wider contextual issues which might lead to you having another chance to come back at a later time. © Aaron Kumove 2015
Aaron Kumove (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the managing director of Horizon Consulting. He is a former CIO at New Zealand Post and at the Ministry of Education.
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