With technology rapidly driving a wave of change in the business, every company is on an innovative digital journey. CIOs, CTOs and other technology executives are expertly positioned to provide unique insight and leadership to guide this process. However, many of these leaders may not find themselves on company boards.
But they should. A Deloitte study found that 79 percent of high-performing companies have at least one board member with tech experience, compared with just 52 percent of baseline companies.
At the 2020 HMG Live! U.K. CIO Executive Leadership Summit on November 24, technology experts who sit on company boards, as well as professional board coaches, shared insights on what it takes to be boardroom-ready, and what skills, approaches and mindsets are most valuable for being effective in that role. With the global pandemic shining a light on the importance of technology to the business, it is increasingly vital that technology executives have their voices heard.
The power of mindset, not just skillset, in contributing to a board should not be understated. Business experience is not the only requirement. Boards look for gaps in knowledge in order to strengthen their capabilities, and technology executives may have important skills other than a technology background to add to the team.
“It depends on what the board is looking for,” says Daphne Jones, Board of Directors at AMN Healthcare, Barnes Group, Inc. and Masonite International, and Founder of Destiny Transformations Group. “If they’re looking to go public, your superpower might be that you know how to do IPOs.”
James Herbert, CEO and Founder at Foundry4, who sits on three boards at the moment, also notes that technology experts have a unique perspective to bring to the board.
“Boards are set up to deal with the Industrial Age economy, mostly an asset mindset,” says Herbert. “We know that great businesses these days have huge value in their software, brand, talent and partnerships. As a CIO, you have to be able to play both sides. The Board looks to you as well for the value that’s locked up in those softer things.”
Although some skills may be specific, taking a step back and considering the big picture is essential.
“See beyond the presentation,” says Jones. “Look at patterns and possibilities.”
Subhed: Speaking the Language of the Board
Being detail-oriented is often a strength of technologists, but in the boardroom, there is often a greater appreciation for brevity. Providing short executive summaries and remembering the top few points to leave the board with is key.
“It’s not about telling me how you built the watch,” says Ursuline Foley, Board Member at Provident Bank and DOCOsoft. “Tell me the time.”
Understanding how the business flows along with its strengths and weaknesses are key skills; being boardroom-ready means making complex problems and solutions simple and talking about them in terms of the business.
“Boards care about the performance of the business, strategy, and risk,” says Jones. “How will what we are doing from an IT standpoint reduce the risks that are upon us?”
In addition, board success is also dependent on executives recognizing that they are not in an operational role and are not responsible for the implementation. “Your job is to listen, observe, and be curious,” says Foley.
During presentations, this curiosity should be translated into action -- asking interesting questions that don’t intimidate the audience allows for more information to round out your thinking. So does remaining on task and thinking about how presentations may fit into the board’s goals and responsibilities.
“We stay out of the way when it comes to operations, we lead on things like CEO succession, we lead on the executive compensation architecture, we ensure that there is appropriate fiscal or internal control,” says Jones.
Technologists are increasingly being seen as essential to these functions, particularly in a time of digital transformation.
“There needs to be a mind shift from the industrial economy to the digital economy,” says Herbert.
The COVID-19 pandemic has proven that technology is the enabler for any business, and technology- and technologists- are an incredibly important aspect of any business function.
“Technologists can bring a lot more value to the boardroom than just technology experience,” says Foley. “Technologists have a risk mindset, and they know a lot about the business.”
Representing technology on a board can encourage the right proactive measures to protect the enterprise. Meanwhile, COVID - and the remote workforce - continue to democratize technology, and an understanding of that technology is key. Innovation cannot be scaled without digital technology, and technology experts are essential to driving solutions and innovation.
“Business problems are really data problems,” says Jones. “If you have data solutions, you will find the business solution.”
To learn more about HMG Strategy’s insightful HMG Live! CIO and CISO Summits, including its upcoming 2021 HMG Live! U.K. CIO Executive Leadership Summit, click here.