by Andrew Garside

Using board meetings effectively – a vital tool for decision making

Make the board pack a live decision-making tool


Too often, the board pack is seen as a set of reports for the non-execs, whereas the point of the pack is to support joint decision-making. Keep it short, and give it a punchy narrative to make sure readers know what the key issues are and the decisions they will need to make in the meeting. That way, your board will come to the meeting prepared to make those decisions. This approach is often helped by having a one page dashboard of the key business indicators. These indicators will be both financial (eg margin performance, cash generation) and operational ( eg sales pipeline, staff churn).  This dashboard will provide the board with a concise snapshot of business performance.  The executives’ commentary can focus on the areas of under performance.

Aim for timeliness rather than perfection in the board pack

Circulate the pack at least three days before the meeting so people have time to read it. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect. Remember, the point is to give people something to think about and if necessary challenge – not to put forward a recommendation for rubber-stamping. If they need extra information, they can ask for it in the meeting – or pick up the phone beforehand.  It will not be possible to make every decision in the board meeting.  It is important that the executive leave the meeting with a clear understanding of what further information is required, when it can be made available and therefore the timeline for a final decision. Remember the final decision does not have to wait until the next board meeting – a board conference call can be arranged at short notice.

Run the meeting as an interactive discussion, not a presentation

Provided you keep the pack punchy, you can assume people have read it, so you don’t have to present it word for word. Instead, ask each executive to give a five-minute summary on how their part of the business is performing, then move into a question-and-answer session. This should be a dynamic multi-way exchange between execs and non-execs that, because of the preparation you’ve done, gets you the decisions you need.

Don’t let the meeting become ‘the CEO show’

CEOs are usually strong personalities who speak their minds. However, an inexperienced executive may only speak up to report on their own area, and hesitate to contribute to other discussions – which means you miss out on hearing a potentially valuable perspective. The chairman (normally an independent non-exec) should take care to ask everyone for their opinion.

Involve second-tier management

Consider inviting people like operations managers, HR managers and sales managers to take it in turns to give a short (15-30 minute) presentation at each board meeting. Non-execs will gain a more rounded view of the business, and the managers concerned will usually be grateful that their views are being sought by the board.

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