One of any corporation’s great strengths is the existence of their board of directors; the presence of which allows numerous perspectives to contribute to the underlying strategies that determine the direction the business is headed. However, since most boards are made up of people with savvy business instincts, they can sometimes overlook line items that don’t, themselves, produce profit. One such department that is always at risk for budget reduction is the IT department.
Anyone with experience in IT is very familiar with how necessary technological relevance is. Since innovations to existing technology are being made all the time, and often produce higher degrees of efficiency, they are often cited by IT managers and CIOs for their potential cost benefit. The importance of IT security, and how necessary it is to make a considerable investment in it, however, is often overlooked. If you are running into problems getting your IT security budget green-lit because of a lack of visible profitability, one good strategy is make your audience understand the risks they face by neglecting the care of your organization’s technology.
Know Your Audience
In order to strike a chord with a boardroom filled with people, you’ll have to understand the people that fill it. Different audiences will have different priorities, but no matter who you are speaking to, you need a uniform and concise message that the corporation itself is at risk if security is not as innovative as the technology solutions you depend on. Whether your company’s board is concerned about competence, cost, or compliance, understanding the motivations of your board’s will give you the foundation to build your presentation upon; even if the message will be the same regardless of their strategies.
Your audience’s makeup will influence how your points should be presented. Members of the executive board are largely members of the C-suite (like the CEO, and COO) and therefore have a more hands-on perspective of business operations. As such, these listeners will want details, and lots of them. On the other hand, the Board of Directors is generally made up of those with little to do with the internal workings of the company, but are highly invested into matters of accountability and will want to eliminate as many errors as possible. The Board of Directors membership may be novices when it comes to technology, and so your message will need to focus on the effects upon growth and profitability.
Clarity is key when trying to sway a board to your perspective, so it may help to build your presentation around a simple, core theme, and tie all of the points you make back to that point. An alternative strategy is to find similarities or common facets between the board’s priorities and yours, and use that to construct an argument for more resources.
Speaking the Language
Very little can impede communications as effectively as a language barrier, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be based on the language each party is speaking. Vocabulary can play an equally important role in how effectively a message is put across. Board members may lack technical expertise and won’t relate to technical jargon, so using it may detract from your core message. In order to prevent your point from being lost in what may be seen as “techno-babble,” try to use terms that would be clear to the layman. Instead of burying your point in terms that they won’t understand, make your point using analogies and similes, drawing upon real-world examples. If there are metrics available, use them: boardrooms love to see data that provides evidence of what you claim.
The key to any successful presentation is to open a line of communication between yourself and your audience. Therefore, you should welcome questions from the board and answer them fully, with the knowledge that these questions will not be easy to answer and that “I don’t know” is not an acceptable response to give. If you are absolutely stumped by a question, promise to look into the inquiry and report back, and then deliver on that promise. It is to the best interest of the entire company to maintain a good working relationship with board members, as it will help you to understand their desires that much better.
You should also listen to them for other reasons as well. Chances are that you’ll be called before the board again, so be sure to pay attention to them while you present as well. By gauging their interest at different points during your appearance, you will be able to better focus on their concerns when you next do so.
You also have the opportunity to pick up on rumblings that may affect you down the line. For example, if you hear talk of upcoming budget cuts, you can prepare by establishing which of your costs take precedence over the others.
Implementing these strategies as you communicate with boards can help you to improve your level of communication with them, thereby increasing your influence in matters of importance. In turn, this will allow you to better align your departmental goals with that of the company as a whole, creating a best-case scenario for the entire organization.