Excel in Your First Year
in the C-Suite

  1. Get Started
  2. Listen First
  3. Clarify Your
    Priorities
  4. Strengthen
    Your Team
  5. Elevate
    Your Thinking
  6. Engage Your Board
  1. Get
    Started
  2. Listen First
  3. Clarify Your Priorities
  4. Strengthen Your Team
  5. Elevate Your Thinking
  6. Engage Your Board

Engage Your Board

Work effectively with directors by building one-on-one relationships and streamlining your presentations.

There’s no doubt that working with the board of directors can be intimidating—especially because it’s almost impossible to gain the unique skill set required for it in advance of entering the C-suite, said Dustin Smith, senior vice president and chief strategy officer at Wabash. “Once you … get thrown into that pool, it is a completely different dynamic than anything else you’ve done.”

Board presentations are the foundation of your relationships with board members, but that’s not where the work ends, according to many World 50 Group members and advisors. Though it will be limited, take advantage of your time with board members—before, during, and after sessions, said Laurel Spencer, senior vice president of global sales and marketing at Amcor. “I’ve seen a lot of leaders that get [to board dinners], and then it’s early to bed—when maybe there’s still a board member or two hanging around the dinner table just chatting,” she said. “I’m the last to leave.”

Jump-start productive board relationships by first understanding the role that boards are intended to play.

Know Your Audience
Boards are not a panel to appease; they’re a resource to help you and other senior leaders address your company’s trickiest issues and, most importantly, move the company forward. Get to know who you’ll be working with, said Bob Eckert, lead independent director at Amgen and former chairman and CEO of Mattel. “Understand who the directors are, where they’re coming from, and what [their] background is on the particular topic that you’re facing,” he said.

Boardrooms have a language, said Walter Solomon—former vice president and chief growth officer at Ashland—and it usually includes a combination of strategy, risk, finance, and people. Speaking in this language during board presentations increases the likelihood the board will hear what you say.

Don’t always be a “good-news Charlie,” said Joe Eckroth, senior vice president and chief information officer at TE Connectivity. Boards can’t help fix what they don’t know is broken, and leaders who call attention to current issues or anticipate future issues—while presenting solutions for them—are cherished in the boardroom, he said.

Seek to Inform, not Impress
Presentations to the board should be concise. Present just enough information to allow everyone in the boardroom to focus on what matters most, said Eckert. “Never use industry jargon or acronyms. Every time somebody presents something with an acronym in it, the audience is trying to figure out what it means,” he said, “and you’ve already begun to lose their attention.”

Assume that board members have read your pre-meeting materials, advised Eckert. Kick off your presentation with a short summary of the deck and avoid reviewing it slide by slide unless explicitly asked. Lead a discussion; don’t give a lecture. “[Board members] don’t remember facts and figures,” said Eckert. Drawing from his 20-year directorship at McDonald’s, Eckert recounted how the company’s leadership team opted to build a physical store interior when presenting their architectural plans for future restaurants—a decision that offered board members a memorable experience, not just a visualization. “Anytime you can embed a story into your materials or presentation,” Eckert said, “they’ll remember it.”

  • Get Started
  • Listen First
  • Clarify Your
    Priorities
  • Strengthen
    Your Team
  • Elevate
    Your Thinking
  • Engage
    Your Board

“[Board members] don’t remember facts and figures. … Anytime you can embed a story into your materials or presentation, they’ll remember it.”
– Bob Eckert, Lead Independent Director, Amgen; Former Chairman and CEO, Mattel

Granted, expectations for board communications can vary based on your function. Cisco Sanchez, senior vice president and chief information officer at Qualcomm, noted that “soft words” like “hoping,” “wishing,” and “trying” are frowned upon in boardrooms—especially when used by leaders of technical functions such as security. “They want to understand that you feel confident in what you’re trying to accomplish,” he said.

In Smith’s experience, many who are new to the C-suite assume that board members will retain information from previous meetings. “You don’t have frequent touch points with the board, so … we have to do a lot of work tying back to the message [from] 90 [or] 180 days ago. … We often say, with anything strategic in nature, you often need three board meetings of high continuity before your message really lands and sticks,” said Smith. Start board presentations with a short recap of the last meeting and a preview of what’s to come—an approach that also allows you to explain how current topics relate to previous agenda items. Said Spencer: “It’s really about consistency of message, clarity of message, [and] brevity.”

With high-stakes agenda items, consider having pre-meeting conversations with select board members or the chairperson to strengthen your pitch and create advocates. “If your topic is IT, and if there’s somebody on the board who is particularly comfortable with IT materials, you might want to preview your presentation with [them,]” said Eckert. Getting this input allows you to shape your materials based on that individual’s concerns or advice. The goal of a pre-meeting is “to ensure that … we’re hitting the right topics that they’re looking for,” said Sanchez. “It’s the fine-tuning of making sure that the message is right.”

When it’s time to present, remember to keep your ego in check. Said Eckert, “It’s more about them than it is about you.” This is a sentiment that surfaced often when our conversations turned to board engagement: Seek to inform, not impress.

According to Sanchez, board relationships can—and should—be maintained outside of meetings. Don’t be afraid to reach out with news regarding a topic you’re pitching or something of particular interest to them, he said. But make sure the information you’re providing feels genuine and relatable—not just an excuse to connect.

The Art of a Response
Dustin Smith, senior vice president and chief strategy officer at Wabash, shared how to think like a board member to better prepare for directors’ most surprising questions.

Related Insights

World 50 insights explore the upheavals, opportunities, and how-tos for navigating today’s complex business environment.
I&D Impact Report 2023
The state of corporate DEI + strategies for success
The New Customer
Post-pandemic customer behavior shifts across B2B + B2C

Getting to Growth
Innovative growth tactics amid market uncertainties

Untethered World
How remits are expanding to “non-traditional” business issues

Scarcity Economy
Adapting to global shortages across people + goods
I&D Impact Report 2023
The state of corporate DEI + strategies for success
The New Customer
Post-pandemic customer behavior shifts across B2B + B2C

Getting to Growth
Innovative growth tactics amid market uncertainties

Untethered World
How remits are expanding to “non-traditional” business issues

Scarcity Economy
Adapting to global shortages across people + goods

C-Suite Insights in Your Inbox

Sign up for monthly updates on member
conversations and trends.

NEW YORK | LONDON | SINGAPORE | ATLANTA

Privacy

Terms of use

Cookies policy

enquiries@world50.com © 2024 All rights reserved.