Executives and High Value Transformation Conversations
Tactics For Engaging the Board of Directors
Back in December, we published our annual Previsory report, Celent 2022 Edition: Technology Trends Report . This report summarizes the major disruptions in insurance that are driving transformation. Of course major transformation requires executive conversations with the Board of Directors where expensive decisions are needed and there are conflicting inputs based on complex foundations.
And of course, conflicting inputs and complexities are exactly what Boards don’t prefer. Confusing (and constantly changing) technical concepts and jargon also don't help. So how does an executive turn these quagmires into straightforward conversations that build rapport and support?
Successful high value conversations begin with the Board’s end in mind, and with keeping the Board objective in sharp focus as the executive builds her/his conversation. Here are some ground rules that have worked and may be adaptable to your situation.
- Know your Audience.
- Start with Why.
- Have Only Three Takeaway Points.
- Illustrate the Key Concept.
- Use Trusted Comparisons.
- Brevity is your friend.
Know your Audience: The more you know about Board members’ professional experiences and capabilities the better your communication can be. Everything from the metaphors you select, to the examples you draw upon, to the amount of technical vocabulary you bring to the conversation will be informed by this. You are not just being courteous or empathetic; you are shortening the time it takes for Board members to understand, and trust their understanding of, key forces at work.
Start with Why: The information you are sharing, and/or decision you are placing in front of the Board, should begin and end with its meaningful business impact (and even better, describe that impact in measurable terms). It will be true that the actual decision calls for choice among various enabling paths, however, the first and most important decision is for the Board to invest for the business impact you put on the table.
Have Only Three Takeaway Points: You may have had to consider 500 things to generate the few final options that apply, but no Board will thank you for sharing it all. There should just be three things the Board remembers from your conversation.
- One of these should be that you are clearly a businessperson who understands the industry (as opposed to a technology geek who is expert in a discipline, for example).
- Another should be the principal positive business impact on the table in this discussion.
- Last, make sure to include the key reason the recommended approach is the right one for the company (not in some general ‘best practice’ way).
Ideally, none of these is a list, and for certain none is a long list. You should have all three of these in mind as you design every part of the conversation.
Illustrate the Key Driving Concept: Don’t ‘book report’ all the forces at work. Reduce the technical, where you must indulge this, to a metaphor or to a simple clear choice. Board members want to know that you know all the detail, but they need you to extract the key fulcrum that gives real leverage.
Use Trusted Comparisons: Place their company experience in context with carefully curated peers your Board will recognize and relate to. Such comparisons may come in many parts of the pitch, but the more board members know the comparative examples, the quicker they get your message.
Brevity is Your Friend: Keep your formal Board briefing short (perhaps 30 minutes on the outside). Use pre-briefings for background when needed but remember these are only to provide business foundational context, normally not to provide significant technical education and criteria. And I do not recommend sending pre-reading materials as a substitute for pre-Board briefings; you need to make certain this information is understood. This is done best in person, and if possible, in groups of just one or two Board members at a time. I have successfully used post-Board briefing packets to provide more comprehensive backup materials. Being able to refer to these in sessions can defuse concerns and show you anticipated the desire for deeper dives in some areas.
Much of this advice is based on broad experience with Boards that are interested in digitalization, cloud, disruptive innovation, and similar transformations, but whose members are often have limited personal business experience with operating in these ecosystems and are less grounded in directly enabling technologies. Yet they do know about these things intellectually and they do have personal consumer experiences that suggest how things should feel for your company’s stakeholders. While these are valid foundations it is up to the executive presenting a decision to complete the frame of reference for the Board. Finally, I acknowledge that your Board may be significantly more experienced and educated, which brings us back to our first precept; know your audience before you design your communication.