How to Get the Board to Say Yes

November 06, 2018

Contributor: Kasey Panetta

Simple rules for CIOs to get their boards of directors to approve their technology projects.

One CIO’s projects kept getting denied because he was providing too much information to his board. Another CIO provided the wrong type of information to the board. A third CIO received a project approval but kept talking, so eventually the board grew annoyed and revoked their approval. How CIOs present to the board and what they say can have massive consequences when it comes to getting the board to say yes to a project or approve funding.

“There’s a reason why it’s not always fun to present to the board,” said Tina Nunno, Distinguished VP Analyst at Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in Barcelona, Spain. “Every interaction with the board is an opportunity to get fired. But no risk, no reward.” However, over 80% of boards of directors are unhappy and dissatisfied with the company’s ability to talk about technology and establish a competitive advantage. More and more, CIOs are finding themselves in front of the board more frequently.

Follow the “Board” rules

To keep your board from becoming “bored,” remember the “BOARD” acronym.

  • Brief. Make sure your presentation is highly focused. The average presentation is about 15 minutes.
  • Open. The primary purpose of a board session is transparency, so the board understands what’s going on inside the organization to protect shareholders.
  • Accurate. It’s okay to say “I don’t know” to the board as long as it does not reflect a lack of preparedness. The need for accuracy — particularly in publicly traded companies — is paramount.
  • Relevant. Talk about technology issues through a lens that will be relevant to the board’s interests, experience and knowledge.
  • Diplomatic. Many technology challenges were created by multiple decision makers in the enterprise. The ability to be able to communicate strategically and diplomatically is critical.

Read more: The 15-Minute, 7-Slide Security Presentation for Your Board of Directors

Get the board to say yes

How CIOs should approach the board will depend on the objectives of the meeting, which generally fall under three categories: Request for approval, status or strategic discussion. When presenting to the board to request approval, CIOs are often looking for approval of funding or strategic direction. If you’re asking for approval, an important rule is to know when to get out and walk away. Make the request first, at the onset of the presentation rather than at the end, and don’t make the sales pitch bigger than the request. Include just enough relevant information. If the business case is massive, you risk looking defensive, and that may give the board more ammunition to say no.

“ Every interaction with the board is an opportunity to get fired. But no risk, no reward.”

You also need to determine if you’re giving a presentation or having a discussion. If the board asks questions, don’t push through the presentation. Have the discussion. Finally, don’t sell past the close. If they’ve said okay, don’t continue the presentation.

Gartner analyst Tina Nunno explains to CIOs how to present to the board at Gartner 2018 IT Symposium/Xpo in Barcelona, Spain. An important rule for approvals is that it is more important to be interesting than to be complete. CIOs can create focus in their presentations by deciding three things as part of their preparations for the board session:

  • Feel: How do you want the board to feel as a result of the presentation? Excited, concerned or comfortable? Emotions drive more decisions than data, so take a position and tell the story.
  • Remember: If they remember nothing else from your interaction with them, what one thing do you want them to remember? It is more important to be interesting than to be complete, so decide in advance what the most interesting and memorable part of your message will be.
  • Do: Be clear about what actions you want the board or executive team to take as a result of your interaction with them. Do you want the board to provide you with money or approval of direction? If you received what you were asking for, your presentation was a success.

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