Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Top 10 Board Meeting Tips (for CEOs)

As a less laborious follow on to my last post (people love top 10 lists), here are my TOP 10 BOARD MEETING DOS AND DONTS FOR CEOS......

1. Set the TONE. The CEO should have some sort of executive report up front that sets the table for what they want to accomplish in the meeting. Be it, "green, yellow, red" or "top issues" -- you want to help the board help you. This includes managing the agenda or "board deck" carefully to best use the time to help the business -- boards will talk and discuss whatever is put in front of them.

2. Try to reach out to all board members prior to the meeting (or ask them to always reach out to you) so their concerns, if any, are addressed.

3. On key metrics, send it the day before if you can so people dont waste too much board time trying to understand or comprehend a first look on key data. You want the focus to be on strategy and decision making, not comprehension of new data.

4. Avoid defensiveness, either by yourself or anyone else in the room. If you see it happening, call a timeout and change the topic. This is leadership. We are here for the TRUTH (and we cand handle it!)

5. Avoid the cheering section. If you have as a goal for investors to leave a board meeting "psyched" and "supportive" -- Don't. Board meetings are not the time to build support for the Company, and an experienced board member will be critical of the attempt. Do that one on one or in other meetings. Board meetings are a time for good information leading to excellent decision making, and nothing builds investor support quicker than knowning your management team is living in reality and "on it."

6. Avoid long answers, particularly from the other executives. It is OK to for management to answer, "don't know" or "I disagree." I expect a good CEO to cut off drifting discussions at the appropriate time. If a CEO does not do this in the board meeting, I must conclude they don't manage any meeting they lead or attend.

7. Stand up to and manage your VC/investor board members. We all get off track and we all (if we have a healthy ego) like to be managed by a leader. This is your meeting so don't make someone else have to play parent. This includes temper tantrums, foul language and rudeness. I am often shocked at how much childish behavior CEOs let their VCs get away with in board meetings. Don't stand for it -- it is unprofessional.

8. Learn the strength and weakness of each board member. Do they always give prescriptive comments or do they ask penetrating questions? Do they talk to seek answers, or do they talk to be heard? Do they ask multiple choice questions, or open ended questions? What histories have they had that shape their priorities? What are their backgrounds? Do they comprehend by listening, or by reading? Are they better one on one, or in a group?

9. Realize you have many tools in your toolbag. Board meetings are one venue only. In the situation where you are having difficulty communicating with a board member in the board meeting, accept that it may not happen. Instead, be prepared to have one on one phone calls ,dinners, invite them to management meetings, have them participate in advisory board meetings, ask them to visit customers or industry conferences. You have many tools at your disposal to communicate with investors.

10. Last but not least, and this ties into the tone you want to set for the board meeting, KEEP IT INTELLECTUAL -- regardless of how others act. For example, a grumpy venture investors asks "well how come you haven't even updated the so and so yet, we talked about this last meeting!?!" Instead of defending against the attack, a better response is, "I have really tried to focus on the priorities. You keep mentioning this as important and I don't see it as important. Tell me why you think this is where we should be spending our time?" Lead by example, and mean it.


  1. Jim,
    Agreed. Some need a little backbone to tell investors to stop checking the blackberry/iphone during the meeting. It is rude to all the board members who put aside the time and the commitment.

    Mark J. Landay

  2. Jim,
    Great post and great feedback to entrepreneurs who enjoy hearing from your side of the table.

    jebb dykstra, CEO

  3. Jim, this is solid stuff. Having attended a number of Board meetings as corporate counsel, I would emphasize the importance of NO SURPRISES. Indeed, if there is bad news, such news should have been communicated to each Board member individually prior to the meeting. How about a post re Board composition (i.e., building a Board)? Thanks

    Scott E. Walker
    Walker Corporate Law Group, PLLC

  4. Great advice! I must say I learned a lot of these points the hard way. Board selection is also key - would love to know your thoughts on that.

    In my mind I keep going back to the best advice I did not follow. Board members should be hand picked - especially the ones YOU can pick - and at some point the entrepreneur can pick all. Especially the investors since once they are in, you are locked in. Taking too long to appoint seats in the common class is also not good - fill the open seats asap with people who have hands on CEO and startup experience. Do that and a lot of board level problems will never come up...

  5. Ask people to come on time. Depending on your role, this might be as simple as making a request, or a bit more strict, like pointing out that they are being rude to everyone else who came on time.