5 Keys to Develop Meaningful Relationships with Board Directors

April 24, 2024
Isaac Sacolick

By Isaac Sacolick

Even if you’re not a C-level company executive, you might find opportunities to speak with board directors and develop a meaningful and valuable relationship with them. You may get lucky and have an opportunistic encounter, like running into a board director in your building’s elevator, at a charity event, or during a conference.

Are you prepared and confident to turn a chance encounter into a career-changing opportunity?

You may also receive an unexpected invitation to attend a board meeting or to present to the board. Board presentations, responsibilities, and attendance usually extend beyond the C-Suite. Digital Trailblazers can have the opportunity to pitch their big ideas to the board or update them on the status of strategic initiatives. C-levels may also ask their direct reports to update the board on new opportunities, explain an emerging technology, or provide status on operational risks.

At a recent Coffee with Digital Trailblazers, I invited Dave Brady, CEO of Turning Point Consulting, as a special guest to discuss accelerating digital transformation and developing relationships with board directors. Here’s a recap of Dave’s five key recommendations, which everyone from seasoned executives to aspiring business and technical leaders can learn from.

1. Know what your audience wants to learn

I asked Dave to provide a brief overview of what board directors are looking for today from their C-leaders and Digital Trailblazers.

“Board directors are not down in the trenches, they’re not in the details, and they’re not hired to manage the company,” Dave reminds everyone. “They’re looking for ways to not only grow the company but to improve its performance and to make sure that the company’s not doing things that will incur undue risk in its products, services, finances, and reputation.”

Key recommendation: Steer away from describing the hows and whats and start with the goals, ways you deliver value, and why your work is important to the business.

2. Learn how to answer the board’s key questions

Dave says, “You’ll get shown the door quickly if you’re not talking about something important to the board.” Below are six important questions that are top of mind for board directors:

  1. How is the company going to grow revenue?
  2. What initiatives can be undertaken to improve margins or create operating leverage?
  3. What is management doing to accelerate the delivery and improve the quality of products and services?
  4. How are the company’s leaders improving employee engagement and driving the culture?
  5. What is everyone focused on to improve customer satisfaction?
  6. Are management controls effective, and what other actions must be considered to further mitigate corporate risk, and maintain compliance with the constantly changing regulatory requirements?

Key recommendation: All leaders and employees of the company should know the answers to some of these questions, but at board meetings, being concise, accurate, and truthful is paramount.

3. Prepare for board meetings

Even if you’re not presenting at the board meeting, it’s important to be mentally prepared and sharp to answer questions and contribute to the dialog.

“It’s time to get my A-game on whenever I walk into a board meeting,” says Dave. “Today, with all of the conversations around digital transformation, a keen eye on performance, and how artificial intelligence is at the forefront of board conversations, engage in conversations on how you, in your role, drive value for the company with some of your ideas and strategies without getting into the details.”

Key recommendation: Focus your answers and comments on driving value. What are you doing that impacts the company’s financials? How does a technology drive value for the business and its customers? Why are the values and outcomes that your initiatives target strategically important?

4. Explain the change management plan in simple terms

Boards can become jaded around big ideas that don’t materialize. Once you set the hook on the value of a transformation initiative, be prepared to answer, at a high level, how leaders plan to drive change in the organization.

“One of the things we do at Turning Point when we talk to boards, especially at the report-out phase at the end of an assessment, is how to implement the strategic changes and transformations within these companies,” says Dave. “There’s always technology behind transformation, but we get really focused on the company’s operating model following our change and transformation methodology.”

Dave refers to Turning Point Consulting’s Five Ps of Change and Transformation™ – Purpose, People, Process, Platform, and Project.

Key recommendation: Two big mistakes are not having a change management plan or having one that’s too complicated to explain and implement.

5. Develop a relationship outside of the board meeting

While much of our conversation during the Coffee Hour was about preparing and participating in board meetings, some of the most important advice was about developing relationships with board members.

“Have some courage to reach out to them and try to develop a relationship,” recommends Dave. “Board members are interested and motivated to do things for the betterment of the business that they’re sitting on the board of, but they’re people just like everybody else.”

How you say things to board members is important.

“When speaking to the board, especially if it’s in a board meeting, or just one-on-one, communication needs to be clear, very concise, and value-oriented. Don’t get deep into the weeds,” says Dave.

Dave’s response reminds me of a story I tell in Digital Trailblazer when, during the early days of the internet, a board member asked me to explain browser cookies. I was a young CTO back then but quickly recognized that providing a technical answer was a career-limiting move. I wrote in the book, “I would be shown the virtual elevator down to the CTO morgue. That is where geeks with ties go when they can’t explain technical concepts in simple language.”

Here’s how Dave recommends communicating with board members.

“Speak the language of business, which is finance, and coming at it from a technology professional for 40 years, that was a big pivot,” declares Dave. “Value creation is deeply rooted in financial benefits and managing the risks. What can you bring to the table to drive value? And for boards, it’s about time to value.”

Dave shared several examples of applying Turning Point Consulting’s Five Ps of Change and Transformation™ – an aerospace manufacturer ready to scale their business operations,  a publishing company struggling to upgrade its ERP and deliver new business functionality, or an IT solutions company positioning pre-sales, project delivery, service management, and back-office operations for three times growth within four years.

Key recommendation: Big ideas require knowledgeable sponsors and enthusiastic advocates. When meeting a board director, speak their language of finance, explain your plans for delivering value, and simplify your approach to change management.

This article originally appeared on the StarCIO blog, Social, Agile, and Transformation.

Isaac Sacolick is President of StarCIO, a technology leadership company that guides organizations on mentoring digital trailblazers and building digital transformation core competencies. He is the author of Digital Trailblazer and the Amazon bestseller Driving Digital. Sacolick is a recognized keynote speaker, top CIO, and a digital transformation influencer, with over 1,000 articles published. You can find him sharing new insights on the Driving Digital Standup or during his weekly Coffee with Digital Trailblazers.

linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram