Most entrepreneurs do not get the best out of their boards because they don’t have the experience to utilize the board or the discipline to set up a working platform.Or because their investors do not know how to be good board members, they mix shareholder matters at board meetings and some of them are simply not a fit. I have seen and dealt with all of the above.
If the board meetings are run well and the board constellation is balanced, it would provide an excellent platform for board members with battle scars to add value that might help the company thrive. I wanted to take this opportunity to share some key observations on what I typically see that works well at board meetings.
Good planning is key
Make sure you have the right meeting and reporting rhythm for yourself, your business and set guidelines and stick to them religiously. Receiving the board decks a few days (ideally a 4–5 days) ahead helps board members prepare so the meeting does not become an updatesession, but rather provides an opportunity to discuss and decide. My preferred cycle is monthly board update emails (basic financials and executive summary by the CEO) and 6 board meetings throughout the year (2 board calls and 4 in person meetings).
Pay attention to the clock. Adequate time planning is a must. Depending on the agenda, make sure you have allocated ample time for the board meeting and make sure you have some executive session time at the end. Executive sessions are good for CEOs to get some feedback from the board. 4 hours is a good target for the entire session depending on your company’s scale.
Follow up on all action items and hold your board members accountable on deliverables they promised. Taking minutes and forwarding them right after the meeting with a short email summarizing key action items is a good practice. You can assign specific projects to your board members quarterly and have them work in pairs or groups. It might be a project focusing on bench marking C-level compensation or hiring a new VP of Marketing. If you can be specific about it, then you can get specific support and feedback.
No need to revolutionize (all the time)
Standardize. Every board meeting deck should have the same flow. Decide on flow, content and do not try to revolutionize things every board meeting. Keep 80–90% of the flow the same and insert thematic slides that focus on a unique challenge or topic such as international expansion. Make sure you cover key financials, operational functions and KPIs. Yes, look and feel is nice to have, but make sure important matters are communicated clearly even if the
slides are a bit boring. Same format helps board members compare past decks and connect dots overtime. Same applies to monthly updates and board calls.
When travel resumes, always try to have your board meetings at company headquarters. This will provide predictability and a channel for board members to engage better with the company, products and team.
Involve other members of the management team as much as possible. Have your VP of Sales present results of the quarter. Have your CFO answer questions about cash flow. Get your CTO to provide a product road map overview. Invite new senior management team members for a casual 30 min intro. This can help your team develop, grow and get board experience.
Dealing with challenges
Most founders are worried about reporting challenges and they only try to provide a peachy view of the business. I prefer when founders actually present challenges first with all honesty and only then the successes or good things that have happened. This way there is more time to discuss challenges.
Nobody likes surprises. Board meetings are the last place for this. Always make sure such news (good or bad) are handled 1-on-1 before the board meeting so the board members can attend the meetings prepared with some ideas, solutions.
To conclude, I’d like to mention one more thing: Improve the board dynamics and constellation as needed. You usually don’t get to choose your board members, as investors in most cases assign the deal lead partner to the board post investment. This person probably serves on several boards. Make sure they are physically and mentally “there” during your board meetings and dedicate 100% of their focus during the sessions. Observe the board dynamics closely and make sure nobody becomes too dominant or silent. If someone is not adding value, they are wasting your and the company’s time. Make sure the board has diverse, relevant experience addressing all aspects of your business. If you are getting ready to scale and if you have an independent board seat open, try to get someone with an operator background from the industry who has scaled before, compensate/incentivize them and make sure they do the work. And if you have the case of having several investor representatives on your board, make sure they are “good and experienced” board members who can be objective about key decisions from the company’s perspective and not only think about shareholder interests.