How to Guarantee You Are Properly Prepared for a Board Meeting
Board meetings too often turn into a slog through status reports and numbers. Even if you’re on track to power through on time, all it takes is one board member asking for a number to be reflected in a different way to derail the train. Those small requests set off a chain reaction of reporting changes that is felt down the ranks and distracts too much of the company.
Bill Conroy, formerly CEO of Initiate Systems and currently a director at Kareo, Prognosis, and AtTask is a seasoned boardroom veteran who has often been “in companies where everybody is running up and down the hallways” hours before the board meeting is set to begin, frantically trying to finish preparations and reports. He has two remedies for manic board meeting preparation: 1) the control book; and 2) a management meeting prior to the board meeting.
The Control Book: “A source of truth”
Conroy calls the control book “a source of truth,” and considers it the only reporting that really matters. “It is published monthly to the board, as well as to the management team,” he says, eliminating the scramble before the meeting and the numbers update during the meeting since “the directors have been getting the control book in the same format all of the time.”
Inside the control book, board members find performance metrics, a profit and loss breakdown, a cash statement, a retention report, growth drivers, and any other salient reports that you know the board is after. The key is to make sure that all of the numbers are included and presented in the same format month after month. That way, Conroy says, “there is no discussion about what the numbers are in the board meeting, which is a total waste of time,” and you can focus on “what the numbers mean.”
The Management Meeting: “80% of the board meeting”
Conroy recommends holding your management meeting one or two days prior to the board meeting. The format and deliverables for the management meeting should be 80% of what’s needed in the board meeting, making it an excellent form of board meeting preparation.
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All presenters in the management meeting should be limited to 2-3 slides but discussion time should not be limited. Kick off the meeting with “somebody who is capable of being very neutral talking about the market,” so that he or she can provide an honest assessment of whether your company is gaining or losing market share. Next, have your product lead present the product roadmap like a forecast. “What are we going to deliver and are we on schedule?”
After that, sales presents a simple breakdown of quarterly deals that have been closed, deals they are so confident in they can commit they will close, and upside deals. The sales leader also needs to take a stab at an end-of-year outlook regardless of what the current quarter is.
The CFO follows sales, and — instead of presenting what the numbers are — presents two slides discussing what the numbers mean, and what the causes for concern are. The CEO closes out the agenda by covering the company’s strategic initiatives and progress made on those fronts. The CEO needs to tell the board “what keeps me up at night” about the company.
- Market overview
- Product roadmap
- Sales recap & forecast
- CFO presentation
- CEO presentation
“If you go through all of those things in a management meeting,” Conroy says, take time afterward to fine tune them, and then have “the exact same people give the exact same reports” at the board meeting, you’re setting yourself up for an efficient discussion with the board.
Between the control book and the management meeting, you create “a lot of extra time for people to be focused externally as opposed to internally.” In board meetings, most of the discussion is around the numbers, and Conroy sees that as the main reason why they get bogged down. But the monthly control book gives “the directors plenty of time to make calls to the CFO” to inquire about numbers, leaving board meetings for what the CEO should really be focused on: strategy.
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