The Perfect Way to Launch Your Board

4 Tactics to Create Maximum Impact from Your New Board

Our experience with new board launches outside of ABA’s High Impact Board Process go like this; 1. The company is under pressure and anxious to get going so they set up the first board meeting at their local office.  2. Often a board dinner the night before is not planned with intentional, engaging conversation but directed around the next day’s meeting logistics 3. The focus of the actual board meeting is on explaining the organization and strategy to the board members so they can begin to understand how they can help and time will be allotted for new members to introduce themselves 4. Lastly, a site visit may happen after the meeting.

This low impact way of launch or re-launching (if you are adding new board members to an existing board) is very ineffective, costly, and does not start the board off representing a #HighImpactBoard. In this blog post, we will highlight to you a case study of how one of ABA’s Clients executed their board launch flawlessly.

The launch (or re-launch) of a board is a significant engagement opportunity that many companies miss. We have seen many companies put a new board together and then start by having the“traditional” meeting similar to the one we described above. There are two issues in launching a board this way;

  1. The first meeting is the most difficult because the traditional model suggests that we need to get the new board members “up to speed” on the organization. This leads to a huge data download and education of the board members. There is little value in board meetings when the bulk of the time is spent educating board members, so many of these first meetings have little to no strategic impact.
  2. The first board meeting sets the tone and the “board culture” for future meetings. If the first board meeting is similar to the one (or worse) that described above, then the board members do not feel a great sense of engagement because there is little to no value creation for the company which means little value for them. Engagement is critical because ABA has discovered through our data of 100’s of private company boards that the higher the level of engagement among the board members the greater the future impact.

So the question is how can we develop a truly engaging #HighImpactBoard launch that will generate impact from the very first meeting for the organization. Here is a textbook example of a #HighImpactBoard launch that we just completed with one of our clients in Europe.

Friesland Campina Team and Chinese Advisory Board
Friesland Campina Team and Chinese Advisory Board

The tricky part for ABA in building the  #FrieslandCampina  Advisory Board first meeting process was that the board that was built was designed to help the President of the Company’s Operations in China. Their business in China is a critical component of their global growth strategy, but obviously, culturally very than the Global Headquarters in the Netherlands. The President of the Chinese operations correctly recognized that the Advisory Board is going to be an important future growth driver for his team and therefore needs to see the full scope of the company’s operations and culture. The first thing we did, that we would recommend to everyone building an Advisory Board, is gain the full commitment to making it successful on a company level, not just divisionally. In this case, that meant we had to get the global team headquartered in the Netherlands to buy into the success of the board. The President accomplished this by having the global team agree to commit some time and cost to this effort by having the first meeting at the Global Headquarters in Amersfoort, NL. This was an important decision as the culture of the Organization is an important factor to FC’s success globally and in China so it was important for the board members to experience their unique firsthand. Since your organization may not have their global headquarters in another part of the world, this level of commitment and demonstrating your own unique corporate culture and vision should be much easier to accomplish. The important factor of this first step is demonstrating the level of commitment your company has to the success of your Advisory Board.

The second critical step in setting up their meeting for success was the extensive logistics planning for the meeting. This means that many of the little details were thought through and discussed at length. Some of the things that #FrieslandCampina did that should be replicated regardless of the size of the company;

  1. A couple of weeks prior to the board meeting the President set up a “get to know you” dinner and invited the Board Members and Senior Team. This eliminated the need for introductions during the meeting and provided the group with a general understanding of the business. We strongly encourage this if your new board members are local or close enough that it would not require extended travel or costs.
  2. A few weeks later the Advisory Board Members were all flown to the Netherlands via Business Class from China. This was an increased expense for the organization but was also an important demonstration of commitment. If you are having your board members travel for board meetings from long distances (i.e. over 3.5 hours) this is a great way to demonstrate the organization’s thoughtfulness for the board members time and commitment. Air travel is difficult enough (especially when flying on the US Carriers!!) this is a nice and very appreciated gesture.
  3. IMG_4336The team considered many of the little details in planning the multicultural advisory board meeting. These small details not only make a huge difference while in attendance but also leave a lasting impression on the board members. For example, over the 2 days we were in meetings and touring the organization’s facilities across the Netherlands there were Chinese flags placed prominently next to the Dutch flag outside of all of the facilities and even miniature flags displayed on each board room table where we conducted our meetings. These “small” details made a big difference in the scores from the meeting that we collected from the board members. They also showed tremendous commitment to the process and were helpful in generating a #HighImpactBoardMeeting. Flags may or may not be displayed outside your facilities; the point is by paying attention to the “small” details you can have a major impact on the immediate results and lasting effects of your board meeting.
  4. Culture is critical. This is not only true in a company but for their Advisory Board as well. The cultural aspects of a board become even more complex when you include executives from outside of the country on your board or you build a regional advisory board. #FrieslandCampina has an amazing culture that permeates all the way to their dairy farmers and even their cows. This unique culture was not only demonstrated by their team but also in how they launched the board with the cultural aspects of the region while keeping Board Members in mind. The obvious is highlighting the local region where the board meeting is being held (this will be addressed in the next installment of this post). What is not so obvious is to show respect to the cultures of your board members. In this case, #FrieslandCampina did this by providing amazing drivers and a project coordinator for our various tours and meetings. Beyond being great at what they did they all spoke Chinese which was key to providing a warm welcome for the board members visiting from China.

Even if your organization is not a multi-billion dollar revenue company these smaller details are not only important but are things that many companies forget to consider even though they can have a tremendous impact on the future outcomes generated by the board. From our experience, Executives aIMG_4333re more focused on the obvious things like the agenda topics for the board meeting and the information in the board packets. Obviously, this information is also important to the success of the meeting and we will highlight some more great ideas for the board meeting itself in a future blog post.  However, building a #HighImpactBoard culture does not start or end with the meeting itself. Board Preparation includes the total board process, including the activities that happen before and after the meeting, not just during the meeting.

Now, you may be thinking that you are not a global organization and your board members will not be coming from other countries so these small details are of little or no value.That should not discourage you from putting as much effort into this preparation process. Every company with a Board has a Board Culture and this type of preparation and thought demonstrates an organization’s commitment to a #HighImpactBoard culture and ultimately its success. Generating High Impact results from a board starts with High Engagement. By showing commitment to the board and the board members, you will build the type of board culture and board ROI that most executive teams are looking for from their Boards of Directors and Advisory Boards.

Stay tuned for our next post where we will provide you with some additional tactics for the first meeting itself, including some unique activities for your attendees. We would also like to hear some of the tactics that you have found productive in driving greater engagement and impact from the launch or re-launch of a board. Please share them with all of us on our twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook feeds.