Start spread in the news
Distribute the “board book” (agenda, financials, meeting minutes, updates on issues, and external relationships) digitally or via hard copy three days before the big board meeting. Do it any earlier, and the info goes stale? Any later, members lose precious processing time. Everyone should be up to speed by the opening bell.
Balance the tell/ask ratio
These meetings have two halves: management (typically the CEO, CFO, and VP of operations) presents information about various agenda items; then the board members earn their fee by providing feedback and counsel. I’ve watched too many executives spend more than two-thirds of the meeting presenting and less than third soliciting feedback. Flip that ratio. Some people mistakenly consider it a sign of weakness to ask for help. They view board meetings primarily as stages on which to trumpet their team’s feats.
Lead with the numbers
Companies on the move like to crow about the numbers early and often. Imagine which meeting has people beating a path to the coffeemaker. Avoid frustration—now and at future meetings—by getting to the financials early. It keeps the clock on your side, adds clarity and realism to the agenda, and presents tough, hidden issues when everyone is fresh.
A good boardwalks a tightrope between coaching and challenging
A good board straddles two constituencies during meetings— shareholders (which it represents) and management (which represents the interests of the workers). A good board advises your management team on strategic plans and grills your execs on the spot to make sure strategies are credible, in everyone’s best interests and well-executed.
Maintain an “action item” list
After digesting the financials, review the status of actionable, management-level items generated at the last meeting—what was to be done, by whom, and by when? Update the list as the meeting progresses. Without this discipline, key initiatives can slip through the cracks of faulty memory and neglect.
The board doesn’t run the company, management does
Seasoned management needs space during meetings. That’s why good board members generally don’t overstep. They ask questions until the truth reveals itself. But you want the gloves to come off if execs are dishonest or in deep denial—then a direct challenge is in everyone’s best interest. Good board members can and should look over management’s shoulder by asking simple questions like, is the company meeting its goals and performing well compared to industry benchmarks and committed timelines? If yes, the board should stick to the strategy. A no is your invitation to venture into operations.
Keep it short
The longest a meeting should run is four hours. Any longer, and it’s not a board meeting so much as an unfocused company-in-trouble meeting. Marathon meetings can devolve into dysfunction, with advisers, even when they’re sated with a pricey dinner, growing restless. Do not waste the board’s time.
Keep things moving with good preparation and agenda restrictions that limit the number of critical issues. Appoint a watchdog to (judiciously) keep an eye on the clock.