Before you say “I never present to the board” and stop reading, allow me to expand the definition of a board meeting. A board meeting is any meeting where a group of impartial outside observers of your organization get together to discuss your business with you in a candid and long-term focused way. Board meetings can be with your advisory board if you’re an entrepreneur, an executive steering committee if you’re running big projects, or any other assemblage of brain power that is willing to focus on improving your business. Now keep reading.
Most board meetings suck. Bad (or should that be “badly?”). That’s because folks want to update the board on all the great things they’ve been working on. Between that dynamic and the insecure paranoia of not wanting to have any question unanswered for the board, most organizations completely overprepare for the meeting. That overpreparedness becomes totally dysfunctional very quickly.
The good news is you can make board meetings productive, insightful, and enjoyable. You merely have to understand the current unproductive behaviors and shift your thinking on how you want to approach the board and what you want out of them. Here’s how to do that:
The hallmark for overpreparing is the board book. Most times it is a three to five inch thick binder full of crap. It has every financial statement, initiative, strategic planning framework, Gantt chart, and any other slide of the day imaginable in it. They sure do look impressive when they’re done right.
News flash – the board doesn’t read it. Even if they do it’s on the plane on the way to the meeting. I swear this is true. I had a board member complain about the board books because he couldn’t get it open on the seat back tray on the plane because it was too thick. The only purpose massive board books serve is so a board member can bludgeon a terrorist on their flight on the way to a board meeting.
Next is the agenda for the meeting. Those suck too. They usually go like this:
Company strategy update
Business unit 1 update
Business unit 2 update
Business unit 3 update
Business unit 4 update
Audit committee meeting
Finance committee meeting
Compensation committee meeting
Why folks? Why do we do this? You sent them the freakin’ board book so they could READ the update. Why are you now TELLING them the update too? Stupid. This goes for entrepreneurs too. When you have an advisory board, they don’t give a crap about the little widget on your thingywhoosie that has an API into the XML intermapping double-modal java applet. They don’t want updates on the last 46 business development calls you’ve made. Stop wasting their time with updates!
There’s a good reason we perpetuate this kind of stupidity. First, we want to impress the board and give everyone their “moment in the spotlight” in front of those senior execs. That means EVERYONE gets floor time with an update. Second, none of us want to seem unprepared during our time in the spotlight so we include everything the board could ever ask of us in the update. Do you see how sick this cycle is?
First, realize the board is a mental resource. You should be going to them for guidance and advice. This means changing your mindset from thinking you have to have all the answers for them and instead thinking about the questions you want their input on. This is that whole thing I wrote about previously on how you have to go from having answers to asking questions. If you missed it, go read it. Now.
Second, get over the “moment in the spotlight” drama. Some people will present. Others won’t. Get over it and grow up. Spend the board’s time on the things that need brain power. Most of the time those are the things that are all screwed up or they’re big opportunities down the road. If the business unit is doing fine, they can read about it in the board deck.
Third, stop it with the board decks. Seriously. It has become tree genocide. Shorten the deck and give the board the highlights only. If you aren’t sure if a board member will be very interested in a particular slide, that slide needs to die. If you have to ask the question of whether to include a slide, the answer is probably “no” therefore you’re just wasting paper.
Fourth, try going naked. Stop. Put your pants back on. I’m talking about presenting without a presentation – read the details on how to pull that off successfully in this post. Put the deck down. Stop it with the slides. TALK with the board. Have a conversation. Tee up some meaty questions and wrestle those answers to the ground. This goes for you entrepreneurs too. Talk with your advisory board about the things that concern you and get their input. You don’t need a PowerPoint to have that discussion.
Look – until we start changing the way we look at board meetings they will continue to be bored meetings. You will hate the board because of all the slides you have to make. The board will hate you because of all the slides you make. You’ll all hate each other while you’re updating them on stuff they don’t care about.
Reverse the dynamic. Make those meetings about the meaty questions. Get into the space of creativity and new problem solving. Use their huge brains to answer your questions and advance your business. I promise everyone will get a lot more out of those sessions if you do.
What techniques have you seen work well for engaging your board and using them productively? Please share!