I am often asked how Board Directors can best engage and add value to Board conversations about digital transformation when they don’t have a background in the subject.
My answer is in two parts.
First, trust the expertise that you DO have.
You are on the Board for a reason, and it is likely that you bring many years of diverse experiences to the Board table.
Ultimately any change, whether technology focused or otherwise, needs to deliver clear outcomes. It needs to solve business and customer needs, with real clarity on how those needs will be achieved.
Directors don’t need to frame their questions around the technology to open up the right conversations.
Questions such as my favourite “What problem are you trying to solve?”, can rapidly cut through the issues and focus the conversation on the key outcomes that the technology/program/project is seeking to deliver.
If the answers are not clear and understandable, then keep probing.
If you don’t understand the answer given to a clear question like this, then keep asking until you get an answer you do understand.
Effective technology executives need to be able to talk to business and customer outcomes. If they can’t, that in itself is a problem.
Lean into your experience.
For example, successful digital transformation relies heavily on change leadership.
If you have successfully led change in an organisation, then you already know this. You also know what is required to achieve it.
Essential components of change include having a clear vision, and bringing people on the journey.
Implementing digital change requires these things too. While the domain and content might be unfamiliar, the process of change leadership will be very familiar to you. Trust your experience and skills.
Completing the technology part of a project doesn’t deliver value when the software is switched on, but only when it is adopted by the intended users of the systems.
Directors should rely on their experience and ask questions about the change management plans. There is no technical expertise needed to engage in this conversation.
I have seen several projects go off the rails because the adoption or business implementation stage of the project was neglected. A board director with years of experience successfully leading change is invaluable in this conversation.
Side note: I am yet to meet an experienced change leader who doesn’t have learnings from when a change they led did not go well (including me). They became successful because they learned from their mistakes, and if they were fortunate they also had the invaluable guidance of change experts to assist.
Second, recognise you also need to learn.
Directors have professional development requirements, however with so much focus on regulation and compliance in recent times, this area has consumed much of directors’ development time.
As hard as it can be to find extra time, effective directors need to also invest in digital and data literacy. Just as financial literacy is core for all directors, so too are these skills.
Yes you can add value to any board conversation about digital and technology. But you will add even more value when you have a deeper understanding of the topics.
The technology landscape is changing so quickly that those of us with expertise in this area also need to invest time. None of us can rest on our laurels.
So how do I start learning when I am overwhelmed by the pace of change, the complexity, and the amount of information available?
A colleague of mine suggests some great steps:
1. CHOOSE your topic
2. RESEARCH: Google, Youtube, podcast applications, Twitter, books – however you like to learn really. LinkedIn is also a good place, and if you have LinkedIn Premium then you can access an enormous library of courses for free.
3. CONNECT: Attend an event about the topic: a pitch night, or a meetup are a couple of ideas. It’s a great way to build connections into this area as well as to learn.
4. SHARE: an article or report on LinkedIn.
Follow these steps and you will have learned the topic, connected, and added something to your brand.
Enjoy your learning journey!