How Can CIOs Build Relationships With Their Board?

With the proliferation of technology and it's disruptive effects on the business environment, CIOs should be key players in the decision-making process of any organization. Despite their importance, many CIOs find it challenging to engage directors in a strategic dialogue on even the most critical issues.

Unsurprisingly, one of the main reasons is the lack of technical expertise, information, and understanding of what digital transformation is and how it works. Nevertheless, regular interactions between tech leaders and board members will increase the chance of strategic talks in matters of growth opportunities and digital innovation.

How to Form Critical Connections

Bridging this gap is essential, and a combination of both buttoned-down and informal conversations are needed to boost the board's technology literacy and, ultimately, set a clear tech agenda.

It's important to remember that board members will pay closer attention when discussing how tech can drive productivity, innovation, and growth, rather than cyber security projects. Staying clear away from tech jargon is also critical to success, with CIOs having to pay attention to what information they present to the board so that everyone understands it.

One-on-ones with board members, preferably in less formal settings, such as over lunch or coffee, can help bring the conversation to each's level of tech literacy. For added credibility, CIOs also need to confer information regarding risk and operational resilience by backing up their claims with facts and figures. These provide an enhanced level of transparency and credibility needed to put everyone on the same playing field. Still, it's far more critical that board members understand the business benefits than the technical details of any project undertaken by the CIO.

How to Enhance These Relationships

More and more businesses install CIOs or other similar leaders with technical experience. Unfortunately, however, very few board seats are up for grabs, with only 10% of S&P 500 companies having a tech subcommittee and only 5% with an appointed technologist on the board.

This trend only reinforces the need for CIOs to build and maintain strong relationships with board members through frequent and effective communication. Ongoing dialogue with the board will help them understand the changing dynamics of the business landscape.

Practical strategies that CIOs can employ in boosting their relationships with the board include the following:

  • The Long-Term/Short-Term Approach - When engaging with board members, it is advisable that you tackle both the long-term (10 to 20 years) as well as the short-term (six to 12 months). For the long-term, CIOs need to address trends that will impact the company and the trajectory that needs to be taken. For the short-term should focus on business initiatives that will influence the immediate business needs.
  • Facts and Data - Every new idea or initiative needs to be backed up by data. Balanced scorecards, operational metrics, risk markers slides, and charts can help boil down complex ideas and allow for more discussion time.
  • Talking Big - With rapidly changing technology and an evolving business landscape to match, board members are more open to big tech bets than before. CIOs should discuss potentially significant IT investments down the line.
  • Give and Take - Board members, most of whom are current or former high-level execs, are no strangers to strategy discussions. Ask them for feedback and suggestions regarding the company's growth strategy.
  • Accept their Points of View - Nobody has a monopoly on good ideas, including the CIO. Board members can bring their expertise to the table, allowing you to shape a more comprehensive strategy.

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