Michael Power recalls the first time he presented to a company board. He was given a permanent role to lead a technology-enabled transformation program.
“I assumed the program had been funded and approved,” said Power, who is now an executive partner at analyst firm, Gartner.
It turns out his presentation was not an update of the project. It was a pitch for the project, he said. It has not yet been approved by the CEO and the business case came under scrutiny.
Power had planned for a 15 minute presentation but it was over in four-and-a-half minutes.
He told the board, ‘Given that I had been recruited in a permanent role to lead this program and it looks like it is not going ahead, would one of you mind calling my wife and children and explain to them that was what I said?”
He said the looks he got from the board members ranged from ‘deep sympathy’ to ‘really, let’s get rid of this guy now.’
The upside was the program did get approved and was successful, said Power, who talked about working with the company board and executive team at the recent ANZ CIO Forum.
He said based on his experience and working with CIOs on their engagements with these key stakeholders, he has compiled a list of what to do and not to do when presenting to a company board and the executive team.
He pointed out CIO and board interactions have been on the rise in the past six years. Presenting to the board is scary if you have not done any before, he says. “But at some point you have to start.”
For Power, that inaugural board presentation provided him this valuable lesson:
“Don’t make any assumptions ... anything can happen, it is useful to know what to do. Also, verify the information, look at the agenda,” he said.
Power said he found out during the meeting that one of the topics to be discussed that day was a project for a “big physical asset with cash flow implications”.
“It would have been nice to know that beforehand. I made all the assumptions. If I had done the right legwork, I would have deferred the presentation, and got it when the timing was right.”
So what’s the upside of all this? “You get better at this and learn from your mistakes,” he said.
Power pointed out that while there is no prescribed formula for how CIOs can deal with the board, there are some basic things to consider.
“Whatever you are presenting to the board it has to get into profits and risks,” he said. "Risk comes in various forms, from financial, to reputation to execution risks."
He said it is important to be prepared to answer a raft of questions like, “What is the risk of not doing it at all? What s the risk of not doing it now?”
Customer expectation in a digital world is among the technology related topics CIOs discuss with the board, he said.
Be prepared to answer, “What are our competitors doing? What is the risk if we do nothing in this space? How can we put together a digital strategy? What does a digital startup mean for the company?”
He added that cybersecurity is also top of mind for boards because cyberattacks are on television every night. Expect to get deep inquiries on the topic, he said.
“How robust are our systems and infrastructure? How secure is our data? How will we reduce risk on an ongoing basis? How quickly can we recover from a technology disruption?”
He distilled all these tips in an acronym, BOARD, which he said is self-explanatory.
Brief: Keep interactions to no more than 15 minutes.
Open: Transparency is key, share both good and bad news.
Accurate: If you don’t know the answer to a query, say you will find out and come back.
Relevant: As well as profit and risks, keep in mind what the board members want and need to know.
Diplomatic: Be tactful and sensitive of the people in the room.
“To succeed in their board interactions, CIOs must build board-level acumen, prepare extensively for each board interaction, excel in each board meeting and continue their influence into the future,” he concluded.
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