As a growing number of CIOs express interest in landing a seat with a corporate board of directors, public boards are also looking to strengthen their technical knowledge. According to a recent study conducted by Deloitte, the percentage of public companies that have appointed technology-focused board members has swelled over the past six years from 10 percent to 17 percent. That figure nearly doubles (32 percent) for companies that outperformed the S&P 500 by 10 percent or more over the past three years.
We recently sat down with Renee Arrington, Senior Vice President and Global CIO Practice Leader at Pearson Partners International, to discuss steps that interested CIOs can take to prepare for and secure a desirable board position.
HMG: What are some initial steps that CIOs can take to groom themselves for a board position?
Renee Arrington: If your goal is to serve on a corporate board of directors, you need to start building your portfolio of board experience of any kind. Not-for-profit boards, advisory boards and customer boards of your vendors are all great starting places. These will provide you with invaluable insight into how boards operate, and can allow you to determine how your experience applies and what gaps you might have in your capabilities. Participating in the activities of another board should also sharpen your strategic thinking skills and allow you to assess your organization through a different lens.
You also need to build your network of fellow board members. One great way to do this is to join a professional board association, such as the National Association of Corporate Directors. NACD has several chapters throughout the U.S., and it’s a great networking opportunity. NACD also offers advanced certifications and has recently added a certification on security and risk management for board members. These are worth investigating and will differentiate you as a board candidate in the future.
Can you offer some tips for CIOs to help them identify what they might bring to the table in a board role?
RA: The first step is to know yourself – your core capabilities and your growth opportunities. There are great assessment options available, from tools you can take yourself online, such as Myers-Briggs and the MAPP test, to those you can have an executive coach administer and interpret for you, such as Birkman and Gallup. In assessing your skills, keep in mind that at the board level, you need to articulate the macro view of how digital initiatives and technology impact the company’s business, along with the upsides and risks.
What are some takeaways that CIOs can draw from their interactions with their own board of directors that they can apply to an external board role?
RA: First, do your homework about your board. Study everyone’s background and be mindful of their past work experiences, likely viewpoints and professional networks. Your board members travel in circles with other board directors, so if you build the right reputation as a CIO who can solve business problems through the use of technology, those connections could benefit you in the future.
When you are in a board meeting, watch and learn. This is an opportunity to observe the dynamics of your board at work. You can intuit a lot from how the board interacts with your CEO, the management team as a whole and each other. Is it an open, collaborative exchange? Is it tension-filled? Is it confrontational? Do board members seem engaged, hyper-engaged or laissez-faire? What’s the balance of power in the room, and whose viewpoint carries the most weight? With these insights as a backdrop, you can determine how to approach your presentation and tailor your style to suit.
What are some recommendations for CIOs to get noticed and to promote their personal strengths?
RA: To get noticed and promote yourself, seek opportunities to broaden your professional network, both within your industry and with fellow C-level technology professionals. Join the local chapter of national associations like SIM (the Society for Information Management) and participate in conferences. If you enjoy public speaking, develop a presentation on current innovative initiatives and offer to speak at vendor events or industry meetings. Some publications or groups accept contributed articles, so perhaps you can work with your marketing department or PR firm to produce something for submission. It’s vitally important to build a robust professional network, because so many opportunities originate there.
Executives shouldn’t accept just any board position that is offered to them. What are some recommendations for scrutinizing board positions and determining the right fit?
RA: The reality is that securing a paid position on a corporate board is difficult and often a long journey. There are only so many corporate directorships, and those seats are coveted by many executives, not just CIOs. That said, when evaluating a board seat, there are a few things to think about: the reputation of the company, its financial performance and position, the backgrounds of the other board members and their tenures on the board. Same for the company’s management team as well as the strategic agenda for the business.
For publicly traded companies, much of this information is available in their SEC filings. When you are evaluating a corporate board, take a careful look at all of this information and build your point of view on how you could help the business as a director. Develop a list of good questions and seek the answers through further research and the interview process.
If this company does or makes something about which you are passionate, and you have a clear idea of how you can add value on the board, you are on your way to determining if this board is a good fit. Conversely, if you have concerns about any aspect of the company, seek the answers. If you are not able to get comfortable with what you hear, pass on the opportunity. The most important thing to remember is that as a board member, you have a fiduciary responsibility to that company, so it’s in your best interest to fully support what the company is doing.
Renee Arrington will be speaking at the upcoming 2017 Silicon Valley CIO Executive Leadership Summit on August 24, 2017 in Menlo Park, CA.