A Tactical Guide to the Best Board Meeting You Will Ever Have
In our last post (The Perfect Way To Launch Your Board) we provided you with ideas and tactics that we implemented for our client #FrieslandCampina for the Advisory Board based in China. In this post we will continue with this theme and provide you with more ideas to create a first board meeting (with all new members or just a few) that will help you build a #HighImpactBoard Meeting that creates tangible value for your organization and Executive Team.
#FrieslandCampina did an amazing job with planning the logistical details that had a big impact on the success of their meeting. They also generated the buy-in necessary from their Executive Team at their Global HQ to generate greater impact and ROI.
The third step in this process is the agenda design and preparing to discuss a strategic topic during the meeting. Many times we see the focus of initial board meetings on getting the board members “up to speed” on the business so that they can add value in future meetings. This normally involves a lot of powerpoint presentations where the Executive Team presents the Company’s latest Strategy, company history, and the current state of the business.
STOP THIS MADNESS!!!!! If you put this kind of agenda together for your first meeting your board members and your team will leave this type of meeting with the impression that this was a waste of time and money. “Educating” your board members does not create value in most board settings. Engaging your board members on how they think your business could grow faster or become more profitable is the whole purpose of having a board that generates real impact. This is difficult to achieve if you are doing all of the educating, so don’t start the board this way.
You are probably asking; “how the hell are the board members going to add any value if they do not know about our business?.” This is not as difficult as it may seem when you realize that the most important information about your company for the Directors is where you are going not where you have been.
We are going to blow your mind with this next statement. Your board members are NEVER going to know your business better
than you do, so stop trying to “educate” them on how to run your business. By the way, if you are educating them on your industry because they do not know it, then you need to reexamine if these are the right Board Members for your company.
Three Steps to Picking the Main #HighImpactBoard Meeting Topic
Instead, pick the most important future strategic initiative you have to achieve and focus on that one topic for most of the first meeting. You probably have many strategic initiatives and I am sure all of them are important so this might be difficult. Here is a proven model that we have found works for many of our clients. You need to analyze which of the objectives meets the following three criteria;
- The initiative has the potential to significantly move the needle on Revenues or Profitability more than any other.
- If we don’t achieve this objective we may (probably will) not hit our future financial or strategic targets
- The time frame with which to initiate the objective has recently begun or will need to begin shortly.
During the meeting, it is important to focus on the one key strategic topic for most of the meeting. This may seem difficult but it is doable, and we are going to make it easier for you by highlighting how to get a lot of the background information on the company
into the board information and activities prior to the official start of the meeting. Here is a simple but effective agenda outline that will get the new board members “up to speed” on how to add value in the first meeting;
- Meeting Activities Outside the Boardroom – Get as much of the education of the board members on the business to occur in activities that you plan prior to the start of the meeting. We go into more detail on this topic later in this post. Just remember that your board members will learn much more about your business through interactions with your team, customers, and your products/services. Use these opportunities to have them learn about the business and don’t waste time in the board meeting trying to do this.
- CEO Vision/Strategy – Send out all of your company’s strategic documentation as part of the board packet but do not plan on discussing that data in the meeting. Instead, we have found that the CEO and/or President can provide the board members with their future high-level vision for the organization. Then have the board members prepare for the meeting by coming up with questions about the strategy prior to coming to the meeting and be ready to ask the Executive Team’s perspective on their questions. This is very different than listening to a “verbose” or “passionate” CEO, President, or Executive Team member dominating the first part of the meeting. When done this way you can limit this agenda topic to a minimal 30 – 45 minutes. Don’t forget that your board members have time to learn about all of the nuances of your strategy and your business over time. We don’t have to accomplish this all in one meeting.
- The ONE Thing – Discuss the most strategic topic and go into depth on that topic for at least 80% of the total meeting time. Make the focus of the meeting on achieving an “objective” as it relates to this initiative. Focus on what information would be helpful to generate from the meeting that the team could then use to accelerate that initiative. What difficulties or concerns does your team have in achieving this important initiative? Focus on those questions and on how the Board can help your team overcome any obstacles.
This may seem like a simplistic outline especially for complex company structures but don’t confuse the role of the board. They are not here to solve all of your company’s issues in one meeting, so stop trying to get their input on everything at once. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Focus on the area where they can move the needle the most. This will generate impact from the Board in the first meeting and start to create the ROI you expect. This will also start the board with a highly engaging meeting for your board members. Trying to get the board members educated on your whole company in the first meeting is impossible and yields little ROI.
Board Engagement at the Board Meeting
Engagement is critical to generating High Impact on your board and this leads us to our fourth important step in launching your board. If you are planning on having the board members come in for the meeting and then leave with little to no interaction outside of the meeting, let me save you some time, money and headaches….don’t have a board!!! You need to plan a part of the board launch for providing engaging activities between your board members and the Executive team. This normally needs to be more than another forgettable steak dinner.
#FrieslandCampina had the ideal plan. They set up two dinners that were unique to the Netherlands on a boat on one of the many canals. We included many of the members of the senior team and we had two general rules that the participants had to agree to;
- No discussions about the company
- No discussions about the upcoming board meeting
So what do we talk about??? Exactly. This is the first opportunity to build engagement by only discussing personal interests which builds trust among the team and the board. This allows for trust to be built which will be helpful in driving more depth in discussions in the future in a collaborative fashion. Since we were from multiple countries there were discussions about where we were from and our different cultures. Yes, since I was the only person from the US I was asked about the craziness in the US as it relates to our current administration.
After the dinner, we went on a unique boat tour around the Canals of Amsterdam with the Chinese Ambassador to the Netherlands and members of his team. This was highly engaging for the Board Members and very helpful for the company to
demonstrate their commitment to the operations in that Country. As you can imagine these activities were key drivers in a highly engaging meeting.
So you have a decision to make when you have your first board meeting; what type of meeting do you want to have? You have two general types of board launches you can implement;
- The Put the Board Members to Sleep Meeting (AKA Standard Board Meeting) – fly the board members in for a boring steak dinner and “educate” them on your business in a whole day meeting and hope that they can start to create value in meeting two, three or four while you absorb the “costs” of your board until they add value someday.
- Best Board Meeting You Have Ever Had (AKA High Impact Board Launch) – fly the board members into “experience” and “engage” with your company’s vision, team, culture, and future strategy. Beyond a higher engagement factor this process will yield a return that makes the board meeting cost neutral at worst, and at best, will lead to a small ROI with greater potential impact in the future.
Do you really need to consider which option is best for your organization?