Communicating with Your Board of Directors

With the foundational role health information & technology now plays in so many aspects of healthcare delivery, the chief information officer (CIO) at healthcare organization across the globe is a sought-after collaborator when creating strategies to:


  • Optimize clinical workflows
  • Increase patient engagement
  • Keep health-related data safe and secure


The healthcare CIO’s evolving role within their enterprises comes along with increased responsibilities to communicate with their organization’s board of directors on the wide range of initiatives they lead or support.  This value guide, developed by the HIMSS Executive Institute, provides advice for healthcare CIOs on how to communicate with their organization’s board of directors. 


Define What You Want to Communicate with the Board

When CIOs are asked to speak with their organization’s board of directors, the goal is often to report on how they and their team are helping achieve specific business objectives.   When CIOs prepare to present they must first find out about the specifics of what the board is looking to understand.  Are they looking for a better understanding of the impact of an enterprise-wide software implementation on the quality of care or patient satisfaction? Are they trying to gain insights on how a new technology-related capital investment is going to drive revenue growth?  Start by asking yourself the question “Why am I here to present?” when defining what you want to communicate to a board of directors.  Here are some other things to consider when defining what you want to communicate:

  • Make-up of the Board: Who are the different stakeholders on the board and what are their areas of expertise and interest?  What type of information will each of the board members focus in on?
  • Organizational Strategy:  How is the topic being discussed tied to an already defined organizational strategy?  How well has the work focused on this topic stayed in alignment with that strategy? 
  • Constituent Buy-in:  How have your physicians and clinicians responded to the strategy you are speaking to the Board about?  How about your C-Suite colleagues that also have roles on the board?  Speak from a point of deep knowledge of your colleagues' perspectives.  

Demystifying Governance: In this video from The Governance Centre of Excellence, the role and mission of a healthcare board of directors is explored in depth.  The Governance Centre of Excellence is an initiative of the Ontario Hospital Association, which “actively engages in improving governance by providing boards with resources ever more vital in the constantly changing health care environment.”  

Discover How You Want to Communicate with the Board

Effective healthcare boards of directors bring together a large, diverse group of experts to focus on supporting the mission of caring for a community.  While they may have varying levels of technological expertise, they often have real-world experience, across many different industry sectors, managing complex organizational change.  The manner and method of your communications with the board will play a major role in gaining approval or support from the board regarding specific projects or strategies you are responsible to discuss with them.  Here are some considerations on as you discover your preferred communication style with your board: 

  • Stick to a Common Language and General Business Terms:  The board is confident to assume your technical proficiencies, in that you are the Chief Information Officer for the organization they oversee.   The board wants to understand the outcomes of your actions at it relates to the organization’s mission.   Communicate using language and terms that are common to the board members experiences.  
  • Keep It Simple, But Include Notes: Keep your communication with the board succinct, ideally 15-20 minutes with visually engaging slides. But be prepared to respond to questions with details.  Prepare the board for your presentation by sharing it with them ahead of time.  Include all necessary supporting documentation in an appendix so they can ask insightful questions. 
  • Not the Right Time for Improv: Board meetings are often tied to a process of annual strategy governance.  Ideally, your communications with the board have been crafted in consultation with board members with management responsibilities. The board meeting is not the appropriate venue for presenting new topics or taking your colleagues by surprise. 

Pixar's 22 Rules to Phenomenal Storytelling: In 2013, former Pixar story artist Emma Coats shared a series of 22 tweets describing storytelling rules she and Pixar relied on when telling a story. Gavin McMahon, co-founder of New York-based communications consulting firm, fassforward, collected these rules and shared them in this impactful SlideShare presentation.  Consider how these storytelling rules can impact your board presentations, whether you are sharing a patient’s story or the status update for an infrastructure project.

Use Your Governance Structure to Inform Your Voice

Effective leaders often work in service to their team, and effective organizations have governance structures that work in service to the enterprise.  These governance structures represent deep expertise and experience in the multiple systems that make up a functioning and successful care delivery facility.   Gain insights from your governance structure to inform the leadership voice you use when communicating effectively with a Board of Directors.  Before communicating with the Board, sit down with members of your organization’s governance structure to understand what is working and what is not.  Find out what strengths have been built upon, which weaknesses have been detected, any opportunities or threats on the road ahead.  Find out where there are inconsistencies and ask members of the governance structures how they would respond to them.  Be in service of those in your organization who share governance responsibilities with you. 



The Importance of Good Governance:  This blog post from HIMSS nonprofit partner Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) Director of Content Strategy and Delivery Karen Heslop discusses the impact effective governance structures can have on the effectiveness of HIT-related projects.

Decide What You Want the Board to Communicate with You

The healthcare CIO’s role has evolved in the last ten years and will evolve even more in the next ten.  Effectively optimizing health information and technology towards clinical, operational or financial outcomes separates the successful healthcare providers from the struggling ones.   The most effective leaders are lifelong learners.  Consider the best ways to leverage the wide breadth and depth of insights each board member possesses to achieve the goals of the organization.  Connect with board members to inform your leadership style and voice. 



Why CIOs Make Great Board Directors: In this March 2017 Harvard Business Review article, authors Craig Stephenson and Nels Olson discuss the importance of having CIOs as board members and explore the reasons behind a sharp increase in the number of CIOs serving on Fortune 100 boards since 2015.