There are plenty of things you can do to position yourself for a board role, and most of them are free
It seems certain that the rise of the CIO’s relevance in the C-suite will eventually be mirrored in a demand for CIO skills in the boardroom.
Boards facing significant strategic decisions about technology and grappling with digitisation will increasingly look for CIO skills to decode these mysteries and help plan a roadmap for the future.
In the US, technology skills are now the seventh most common capabilities on listed company boards. The 2017 Spencer Stuart Skills Index found that nearly 20 per cent of new independent directors have backgrounds in the technology or telecommunications industries.
Boards are seeking executives with technology knowhow to better understand how to deploy emerging strategies. The traditional board skill base didn’t include CIO skills but that’s changing. For example, cybersecurity expertise was once seen as a luxury item at the board yet today it is often viewed as a core competency.
So in an age of technology, why aren’t our boards brimming with CIOs?
There’s a number of reasons for the slow rise of the CIO to board level and most of them aren’t that good. First, the reality is that boards adapt their competencies to the needs of their business more slowly than you might think. That means CIOs will take some time to grow their presence in the boardroom. In addition, boards are hampered by a number of systemic challenges:
Status quo bias: Chairs and boards have a level of comfort with the familiar and the decision to take a new skill set into the boardroom is made cautiously.
Competition for roles: In 2016 to 2017, there were 676 directors on the NZX Main Board (not counting duplicate directors). Competition is fierce even before CIO skills are considered.
Diversity: There’s undoubtedly pressure on boards to address gender imbalances. This may be a complimentary advantage for some female CIOs but the urgency to redress gender imbalance may compete with pressure to bring new skills sets on board.
What should you as a CIO be doing to get board ready?
If you are a CIO who knows you’d add some value to a board the first rule is to start planning now. The truth is, the runway to the boardroom can be a long one. It takes time and patience to find a board role and many directors say persistence is a critical trait in finding that first rung on the ladder. There’s plenty more you can be doing to position yourself for a board role, and most of them are free.
Beef up your strategic mind
Broaden your reading beyond your skill set, particularly into strategy. There’s plenty of excellent free thought leadership from a variety of firms like McKinsey, Deloitte, Bloomberg and Equilar. Knowledge of global trends and a broad understanding of governance is critical to cultivating that edge that gives you entry to the boardroom.
Get close to a board
As a CIO you may have opportunities to be present in the boardroom or even to sit on a subsidiary board of your company. At those times you should be a participant as well as an observer. Ask yourself some reflective questions when working with directors: How do you assess the boards quality and functional strengths? Where you would add value? What would you do differently?
Ensure your experience has some relevance to strategy
Make sure you have end to end project and transformation skills and other experience that speaks to strategic thought and planning. A board is looking for skills in strategy, particularly where it recognises the need to embrace technology or operates in a disrupted environment. Be clear that your CIO skills are exactly why you are desirable as a board member. In doing so you’re either confirming what the nominating committee are thinking or giving them food for thought about appointing a CIO skill set to their group.
Link in with a mentor
A mentor in business with some governance experience can be a significant help and guide to the governance world. There’s no doubt networking can be a powerful tool in New Zealand’s tight-knit business environment. Your own reputation will be a key success factor in getting the boardroom door to open.
Join the CIO New Zealand group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.