2000 Board Meetings

I was asked recently, ‘How many board meetings do you think you have attended over the years?’. This really got me thinking and having spent some time crunching the numbers it occured to me that I have actually sat through over 2000 board meetings since my time as a Finance Director in a large Agency during the noughties, through to the present day in my role as Non Exec for a number of growing agency businesses.

Having spent some time thinking about this, I wanted to offer my thoughts on what makes a successful board meeting.

Why have a board meeting?

If you hold regular management meetings in your business, you may think that holding a board meeting may seem a little pointless. I would be willing to bet that your management meetings are quite operational in their focus, and probably don’t have too much time set aside for strategic thinking.

It’s important to take time out regularly to ensure that the business is on track with its goals and to make important strategic decisions. My part as a Non Exec in these meetings is to provide an outside perspective on current business issues, assist with problem solving and to ensure that at least one day a month, the Agency is thinking about its strategic future rather than focussing on the day to day operational matters.

Structure of a board meeting

I am not really an advocate for one structure over another, but it’s important to at least have some idea of the issues you want to discuss during the day and to formalise this as the basis of an agenda at least 2–3 days ahead of the board meeting. Firstly, this sets expectation as to what will be discussed, and secondly gives those attending the chance to review any relevant supporting documents beforehand and come to the meeting focussed and fully up to speed.

The agenda for each meeting should vary according to what is happening in your business. For example if the financial performance is in line or ahead of budget then there is no need to spend too much time discussing the numbers. Instead the board should shine a light on either areas of underperformance or opportunity.

If you currently have no structure, ensure that you are at least covering the following areas when holding your board meetings:

  • Apologies for absence
  • Approval of previous meeting’s minutes and matters arising from last meeting
  • Urgent business — anything business critical that needs to be discussed before anything else
  • Finance — review of company finances, where are we at, are we on track with our budget
  • Legals — discussion point for any lawsuits, employment contracts for directors, moving offices etc.
  • Sales — review of pipeline
  • Marketing — review of marketing activity and strategic planning of future plans
  • HR / People — recruitment of new employees, staff morale, potential disciplinary matters
  • Operations — review of delivery and IT related items
  • Any other business
  • Close of business

Accompanying Documents

In my opinion, it’s important to have a number of reports from various departments which give a view on the current state of play in the business.

It may also be useful to have various other reports highlighting any key issues in the business. For example, if there has been recent high staff turnover, some data on this and the state of the Agency culture or some feedback from recent exit interviews would be useful for strategic insight.

In addition, to these operational reports, the ideal board pack should highlight the challenges being faced, how they could impact the growth plan and ideas on how they could be overcome. Additionally, each report should draw attention to new opportunities for growth and how these might be exploited.

As an absolute minimum, I would suggest the following reports for your board meeting:

Finance — Management Accounts for the previous month, with the following detail:

  • Profit & Loss for the month and YTD, analysed against budget with commentary against significant variances
  • Balance Sheet
  • Debtors report
  • Creditors report
  • Cashflow forecast for the next 90 days

Sales

  • Current Pipeline document

Marketing

  • Activity report for previous month
  • Plan for coming month
  • Analysis of spend vs budget

Getting the most from your board meeting

To get the maximum from your board meeting, it is important to come fully prepared and fully focussed. The board meeting is the one day a month you have set aide to work on the business, and not in it.

If you are working with Non Execs who attend your board meetings, prepare a list of questions or issues that need resolving in advance and add these to the agenda before circulation. In my experience, this is very effective as it makes you think about the business before the meeting and also helps you get the most value from your advisors.

Lastly, to remain focussed, try not to look at your phone or laptop during the board meeting. Instead, schedule regular breaks during the day for board members to make calls, check messages and grab five minutes to get some air; this will keep the meetings focussed and everybody fresh.

Also, try to ensure that your team know that the board meeting is important to you and that you aren’t to be disturbed unless there is an emergency. If this is likely to be an issue, consider holding the board meeting away from the office.

How do you want to be managed?

Something I find fascinating is working with clients to understand how they want to be managed. For example, some clients want to be coached — where the advisor works with them to solve an issue almost teasing the answer from them in order that the client is left with a feeling that they were part of the problem solving process.

Yet, other clients are quite happy to just be told the answer to a specific issue and for feedback to be direct!

We started working with a client recently, where they had an issue in taking criticism. Instead of waiting for it to manifest itself during a meeting, they approached us and offered up their preferred method and approach for feedback which was invaluable and made our meetings very productive and collaborative.

Conclusion

There is no right or wrong way to approach a board meeting and we have seen many different approaches over the years, including holding meetings away from the office, on a boat, whilst walking or in another country! I wrote this article to share a few thoughts on how I feel the best board meetings are run, and hopefully you can take one thing away that’s useful and implement that into your next board meeting.

Pete Hoole

Founding Partner

Cact.us