David Thompson, EVP Global Operations and CIO, Western Union – Western Union

David Thompson, EVP Global Operations and CIO, Western Union – Western Union

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What kinds of conversations do you have with the board of directors of your organization? What kinds of questions do they ask? And are you prepared to convey to them the value of the projects and initiatives you propose?

Here’s what David Thompson, executive vice president of global operations and CIO of The Western Union Co, has noticed about the questions board members ask, according to an interview in the Wall Street Journal (“Western Union CIO Talks About Dealing With the Board”).

“In the last two years, I’ve seen a dramatic shift [in directors]… from wanting to talk about strategy to really getting into detailed operational plans. They ask questions like, are you constrained on resources? And they want to know if there are challenges internally that are becoming roadblocks to success.”

If directors ask for details…

When directors want to hear about details, that can either be good or bad, depending on their background and areas of expertise. If they have sufficient working knowledge of IT, for example, good. Otherwise, be prepared to communicate the value of what you’re proposing or the project that IT is developing.

I’ve written before about the importance of communicating value (“So You have to Communicate ‘Value’“). It’s important because, ultimately, the directors need to fulfill their responsibility to the organization: governance, and profit for shareholders. If you can get the directors to focus on value to them – e.g., how it makes visibly provide value to shareholders – you’re less likely to get pushback on details.

… be prepared to communicate value…

If you’re used to thinking of features and problems solved, rather than value, this can be a difficult change in perspective – I know, because I made this switch myself and have worked with others to make the shift.

… and here’s how to figure out the value

Here’s a practical, concrete method for figuring out what value a project is providing to the directors.

Make a list of the most important features of a project IT is developing. Then, for each of those features, ask yourself, if the project has those features, what’s the result? If the organization gets that project, how does the organization benefit?

Ask those questions iteratively until you forward-chain to a statement of what the directors get. That’s the value to them, and that’s what you must be ready to communicate.

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