The CEO’s Board Management Toolkit
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Improve Your Board’s Technology Literacy

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While some board members may feel lost when they hear details of infrastructure improvements and other association technology projects, you can help them see the big picture: how the technology will support members and advance the mission.

Boards oversee the strategic direction of their organizations, and technology can have a big impact on that. This means board members may want to brush up on all the latest technologies, but that’s not necessary. Instead, the key information you need board members to understand is how any proposed technology initiative will further the association’s strategic goals.

“Technology literacy isn’t so much about, do they need to know what an LMS or an AMS is?” said Garth Jordan, CEO of the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). “Maybe it would be a little helpful, but that is such a minor part of the journey. To me, that literacy is, how does the technology plan fit and support the execution of your strategic plan? And if they can’t speak to that or understand that, you’re not going to get board support for large-scale projects.”

Gretchen Steenstra, a strategic consultant at DelCor Technology Solutions, said board members typically only need to know the basics. “I think they need to know enough to have a working knowledge and an educated conversation,” she said, adding that staff need to know minutiae and boards should have the big picture.

To Jordan, sharing too much detail makes poor use of a board member’s limited time. “One of the challenges is not getting your board too deep in the weeds on any given topic because that’s not what they’re there for,” he said. “They’re there for the strategic guidance of the organization and for the fiduciary responsibilities. They’re not there to develop your technology plan.”

Describe technology to boards through a visual lens. Instead of trying to explain complex terms and infrastructure architecture, help them visualize the job the technology does.

A Visual Lens for Technology

Both Steenstra and Jordan recommend describing technology to boards through a visual lens. Instead of trying to explain complex terms and infrastructure architecture, help them visualize the job the technology does.

“We’re pretty big on visualizing everything [at AAHA],” Jordan said. “We showed, for example, the spaghetti mess of our technology platform in a visual. You’d just go cross-eyed looking at it. We said, ‘In order for us to simplify the journey for our members, this has to get simplified because you can’t make sense of this thing.’”

Steenstra agrees. “[Say,] ‘This is how we deliver learning to the member.’ Or, ‘One of our goals is to have an outstanding customer experience. How are we doing that? These are the technologies we are using to meet that goal.’ At a very high level, give them a picture so they can connect the dots.”

Jordan added, “If they needed to know about an AMS replacement, then I would show it to them not as the technology but what the anticipated outcome is. It’s going to do X, Y, and Z for our members.”

Money Matters

Even if you do a good job helping your board understand how technology will benefit the association, some members may feel compelled to ask more questions because of the financial investment that comes along with it. “I would say most folks are more concerned about the money attached to it than the technology,” Jordan said.

At his association, the board builds in wiggle room in technology projects in case they go over budget, allowing staff to manage the daily activities of tech projects, and only returns to the board if there are significant concerns.

Steenstra advises talking about information technology investment as an integral part of a strategic initiative.

“I think a big shift for boards is, IT is not an expense line item, where you look at IT singularly,” she said. “IT really should be baked into everything people do. So, when you’re looking at a project, it should have people, money, and usually technology—all three together.”

Finally, staff should address any of the board’s technology-related concerns, some of which may come from the outside environment, in big-picture terms.

“A lot of boards and leadership are worried about cybersecurity and things they hear on the news about disaster recovery,” Steenstra said. “Having, again, that picture of, ‘Here is how we are taking care of that. This is how we’re dealing with cybersecurity incident response at a high level,’ so they have an understanding that there is a plan in place, and here’s how the dots get connected.”

Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a former editor at Associations Now.

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