Most investors and entrepreneurs are unhappy with the configuration of their board(s). It’s very too often not effective, actionnable or useful enough. Here is an attempt to provide a real solution to a problem that is actually a bit more complex than it looks.
I’m not proud of this but recently a board member who could not attend asked me: “So… this board… Useful ?” and I frankly replied “Of course ! I’m inbox zero”. It’s both a shame and a reality. I had worked with the entrepreneur the previous days and already had a full set of information. I did not need to be here except to support him in a rough path that most of the investors around the table just don’t understand. You see the true face of investors in the struggle.
Anyway… After that board meeting, I told myself it was a shame not to change the wrong dynamic that runs most of the board meetings. So here we are :)
First things first: It’s really annoying to receive a monthly update or attend a board meeting and realize that the set of information and/or data isn’t relevant, accurate and mastered. No discussions should start before the entrepreneurs fixes this. It is just fruitless otherwise.
What for: Board members should not just come every few weeks or months for a business “get together what’s up buddy I’m a board member after all” kind-of meeting, it’s wrong. Board meetings are like off-site retreat for teams: you honestly emphasise the past and present, address strategic matters and concerns, envision the future and take decisions, all together.
Prerequisite: Founders should send their board pack about a week in advance. They must tell their board members what they expect them to know, to learn, to think about, before the meeting. preliminary quality work from everyone around the table is necessary to make the most out of a board meeting. Tourists must be banned.
THE PRE-READ >> This is the one thing to do above everything else
The CEO & Management Pre-Read is prose and has the major areas of the business covered after the CEO overview. 1) It allows your investors to have an inner sense of what’s going on within the company 2) it helps drive the discussions during the board and 3) it helps your team and yourself to reflect on the overall dynamic of the company forward and backward with authenticity and genuinely
The CEO overview is a crisp 1–2 page summary of highlights, lowlights, what the focus is going forward and the top priorities. The various functions (marketing, sales, engineering, HR, etc) have their subsections, written by their leaders.
One to one: Therefore, you must allow your board members to come few days or weeks before for a one-to-one, to have an open discussion, to show them what you’re up to, to pick their brain. You can cut the meeting into a 30 minutes get together if you want. But let them come over.
Timing: Attention span for everyone is 45 minutes tops. both entrepreneurs and investors are obsessed with their inbox so cut your board in 2 or 3 sessions of 45 minutes with 15 min breaks in between. When people get into the room, make it clear: No Phone, No Computer, No Nothing. 45 minutes straight. Take your device away or you’re out.
No no: A board is not a pitch session, you don’t have to brag or sell or whatever you think will make your presentation look great. It must be an honest and clear view of the past, present and targeted future. If things are ugly, show the blood, if things are running smoothly, address strategic matters. Do not make an appearance, do not run a show, be a CEO.
Setting a pattern of understanding: A board is like a book club. Everybody reads the same set of information but the understandings and opinions vary. Founders should set a reading pattern for everyone to follow the same path of understandings even though opinions will still vary. The way to do that is simple: A matrix of 3 colors * 3 timeframes. Everything you talk about can fit into that matrix.
Board deck: A deck is useful as a material, but not necessarily as a support during the board. It can even be a distraction. Make sure they have received a copy on time to read and study it. During the board, don’t display it, don’t give any copy. Just run the meeting with a copy by your side. Best way for your board members to do their homework and for you to run an efficient meeting.
As for the deck, here is a simple model on which you can apply the 3x3 matrix.
#1 Agenda >> Important for everyone to understand when certain matters will be addressed. You are responsible for running the meeting as the CEO or the chairman, cut conversations that are brought to the attention of everyone too early, set the pace.
#2 CEO Talks & Overview >> Tricky but very important slide. This is where you recall the big picture and provide a full overview of the company’s health: past, present and expected. Be careful not to loose the audience through too much explanations. 15 minutes tops. It allows everyone to reflect what’s said onto what’s real, therefore determining afterwards the clarity of vision and execution of the team.
#3 The People >> Remember, this is the most invariable and fundamental factor of every single organisation. You can change everything but them. If you change them, it’s just another company. Put an organisational chart with the health status of each department, the hiring in progress or planned. Why aren’t you performing somewhere ? People problem or Organisation problem ? Solutions ?
#4 The Metrics >> Set the right metrics depending on your activity and track them. Don’t try to make them look good! Just provide clear week over week / month over month non cumulated charts, as well as insightful information about them. How did your metrics evolved? Why this way? What did you learn? What are you doing to accelerate the pace or change the dynamic?
#5 Challenges >> Bring on the table the few challenges that were addressed during the previous board, how did those matters evolved, how did you succeed but more importantly where and how did you fail to address some of them. Then, address the continuity of those challenges and new ones. Define why they matter & their impacts, what you know and don’t know, how you’re planning to move forward, the goals you have set and how your board can help.
#6 Strategy >> Strategy versus Challenges: Challenges are in regards with the normal course of business, the operations, what should just be done no matter what. Strategy is about the choices that you make to change the course of your business. Fundraising, Business Model, High Level Product, Go To Market… are strategic matters, not operational ones per se.
This is the most important part.
#7 Closing >> Q&A, Administration, Closing Remarks…
Have someone take notes during the meeting. Then address a summary email to everyone within the next few days. As for who should attend the board meetings besides the CEO and the investors… Well, this is another story.