I have come across very few entrepreneurs who actually look forward to board meetings. It is often treated as a “chore” that consumes a lot of cycles that would otherwise have been used up more productively to moving the company forward. However, if you have a strong board, board meetings can be a valuable exercise allowing you to think deeply about your business and get feedback on key strategic issues facing the company from smart and experienced board members. Board meetings also force the management team to prepare a well thought through update that they can utilize to update their employees and keep them focused on the company’s priorities and strategy.
Structuring your board meetings
Generally, most CEOs structure their board meetings as simply status update meetings. Typically, very little time is devoted to discussing substantive issues that the company is facing. Similarly, there is often no specific ask where the CEO asks for specific help from the board e.g. introduction to a potential business partner or help with hiring a specific member of the management team. I would, therefore, suggest a format where roughly half the time is spent on a status update and an equal amount of time is spent discussing the top 2 or 3 strategic issues. Ideally, you should spend 3 hours to hold your board meetings so that there’s sufficient time to provide a proper update and hold a good discussion on the key issues.
Your First Board Meeting
There are two important topics that need to be discussed in your first board meeting. First, you need to get all your board members on the same page with respect to your company’s strategy, positioning, business model and goals/objectives for the next 12 months. The content of the presentation should be essentially the information that you presented in your investor pitch. The Sequoia business plan presentation is a good template that you can use. While your investors will have seen the presentation before, it is a good idea to go over it again so you can flesh out any issues that they may have with your plan.
The second part of the presentation should be a discussion of your goals and objectives for the year, a detailed Go-to-Market plan and your planned budget for the fiscal year. You should make sure that the board has approved both your budget and hiring plan for the year in your first board meeting.
Standardizing your Board Presentation
Following the first board meeting, you should create a standard presentation format that is consistent across different board meetings. This way it becomes much easier for the board to track progress across multiple board meetings. The Sequoia board deck format is again a good format to use for your board deck.
You should make it a point to send your deck to the board at least 48 hours in advance so that the board members have enough time to review the deck and prepare for the board meeting. This way you can also spend less time on status update and more time discussing the key issues that you face.
Communicating with board members
I highly recommend calling your board members a week in advance of your board meetings. You should give them a heads up on any performance issues e.g. you missed your revenue objective for the month, any high profile deals you lost or loss of any key team member. This way there are no unpleasant surprises at the board meeting. You should also give them a heads up on the key issues that you would like to discuss at the board meeting so that they have time to think about the issues and formulate an opinion.
I highly recommend that the board meetings be conducted in person. It becomes very difficult to have a substantive discussion if some of the board members are calling in. Board meetings should be conducted monthly especially in the early days when things are in flux and it is important to get feedback from the board on a frequent basis. I also recommend that most board meetings are followed by an evening dinner. This allows the management team to build a good working relationship with the company executives.
Communicating with your team
Finally, I highly recommend that the CEO leverage the board presentation to give essentially the same presentation to the company. This is a good way to keep everyone up to speed on the company’s progress and share the board’s feedback. Of course, you can remove any confidential matters from the company presentation such as acquisition interest/ discussions and financing related matters.
Board meetings don’t have to be a chore if they are structured properly. Once the presentation format is set, it shouldn’t take more than half a day to create your board presentation. You will find that your board members and employees are a lot more aligned with the company’s mission and you can expect to receive valuable feedback and help from the board to move your company forward.
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