It’s a familiar feeling. You’re standing outside the board room, palms sweating waiting to be called in to present your new HR proposal. What will they say? How will they react? Is this the end of your career?
Let’s not jump to conclusions just yet about the fate of your career, but it’s easy to think of the negative when faced with this big task. Presenting to a board - and getting board member approval - can be quite tricky. Why? Because your audience is different, the approach is different, and the role you play is different as well. But your outcome is clear: You want the green light to proceed with what you know is going to make a difference to your company and your employees.
Recently I attended an HR session where we discussed exactly how to tackle this common hurdle of board approval. Here’s what I learned:
Bring passion to the table
It’s absolutely critical to do what I heard Jackie Buttery, Head of Reward & Benefits at Herbert Smith Freehills say recently, which is to ‘bring passion to the table.’
If you don’t have passion for the topic and your proposal, how can you expect your audience to have it?
Think of yourself as a cheerleader, waving your pom poms (or in our case, the business case) in front of the board, showing them how they just have to approve your proposal. Psych yourself up, remove any inhibitions you may have, and get on and deliver the passion!
Arm yourself with data
Passion is great, but if you don’t have the data to support and/or bring it to light, then you don’t have a chance of receiving approval. This is critical in any setting, but especially in a board room because there’s a higher level of demand and expectations for you to dot your i’s and cross your t’s. The same way a board wouldn’t sign off on a new retail store without knowing the share of the market available and number of shoppers in the area, you can’t expect them to approve your new proposal for your new benefits hub without significant reason.
So with HR, we need to use data to make the case for our proposal, using what some call ‘powerful data’ to do so. This means data that shows specific and measurable ROIs (return on investments) for what you are proposing. For example, if you want a new recognition programme you may want to show how this will have a direct impact on KPIs (key performance indicators) such as turnover, engagement, etc., showing evidence of how this was achieved at other companies. So, find ways to use and present your powerful data, connecting it to what you are trying to achieve.
Show up with allies
My boss at Merlin Entertainments, Tea Colaianni, taught me a valuable lesson about preparing for board meetings, and that is to ‘show up with allies’. What I mean by this is to take the time upfront to meet with board members and/or business partners, and take them through the proposal before your big meeting. This helps for a few reasons.
First, it means that you have less to explain in the meeting, second, it can highlight any questions and/or information which needs to be covered in the board meeting, and finally, it means that you are not alone in the room - you’ve got your allies who can help promote your cause.
Get your backup ready
There are times during a board meeting that you just need to change course. What I mean by this is that although you may come in with a plan, it is absolutely critical to come in with a plan B, plan C, and possibly more! You need to be agile, being able to flex your approach and even your proposal if necessary for the bigger cause. Read the signs you are getting from board members and use them to decide exactly which plan will best meet your short and long term needs.
Use your time effectively
Finally, let’s talk about time management. I once attended a coaching session on presentation skills, and decided to use the time to practice my skills of presenting to a board. My coach’s biggest piece of advice was to think carefully about each and every word. I went through my practice presentation over and over again, with my coach picking apart each and every word, challenging me by saying ‘is it really important?’, ‘does it add any value?’ and ‘do they really care about this?’. By creating this focus on meaningful and effective words, you make sure you use your time effectively, making every minute and word count. Challenge yourself by being your own coach and asking yourself these questions as you practice what you’ll be saying during your precious time with the board.
Presenting for a big scary audience doesn’t have to be big and scary. Just stay focused, passionate and well-prepared to ace your next board meeting. Tell me, what are your best tips on getting board approval?
Debra is the co-author of "Build It: The Rebel Playbook for Employee Engagement," which she wrote with Reward Gateway Founder, Glenn Elliott. She's a Rewards guru, having over 20 years experience as a rewards leader, speaker, teacher and a frequent contributor to the Reward Gateway blog.