Board meetings don’t always have the best reputation. Between needing to spend hours preparing for them, gathering all the right data points from different stakeholders, and anticipating the unknowns that may come up in conversation during the meeting, it’s understandable that many finance professionals dread board meetings.
However, that doesn’t change that board meetings are a crucial aspect of running a successful business. They offer a valuable opportunity to align your business strategically and emerge recharged and with a renewed sense of focus. But, this can only happen when board meetings are organized properly to be productive.
At Capchase, our board meetings have been an invaluable tool for our finance team to achieve organization-wide synergy and calibration. Here are seven guidelines we try to adhere to in order to make our meetings as productive as possible.
1. Organize more board meetings—yes, more
Our approach at Capchase is to have more board meetings—yes, you heard that right!
Since our Series A in early 2021, we have had board meetings every other month, and we recommend that other companies consider a more frequent schedule as well.
Slipping into a regular cadence of frequent meetings allows you to have meetings where you can engage in conversations around strategic opportunities, interesting challenges, and constructive requests from the board. This ensures your meetings are productive and don’t waste too much time updating everyone on what’s happened since the last meeting.
Meeting more often is particularly beneficial if you have assembled a board of experts across different disciplines that can provide actionable insights and can be true advisors rather than receivers of tedious reporting. If you start to feel that meetings are drifting towards tedious reporting, then less frequent meetings may be better for your business, or you may want to lead with more actionable discussion topics/questions.
2. Plan ahead
Preparation for board meetings always takes longer than everyone would like, and this is especially true for financial modeling. No good model is built overnight, especially at startups when plans can change quickly!
We recommend having multiple sessions with the key group of stakeholders who drive the operating plan in the 3 weeks leading up to a board meeting—in our case, this group would include the CEO and COO.
This approach will ensure you have time to discuss evolutions in the business, understand the impact of any change in expectations through the reviews of the outputs, and iterate with department leaders to ensure accuracy from an operational perspective.
While having multiple sessions like this may seem like overkill, we recommend it because these sessions are where invaluable strategic conversations occur. The pressure of having a pending board meeting will help you ensure every critical stakeholder is aligned on how to approach all the moving pieces.
3. Find consistency in the presentation with standardized reporting
One common struggle of board meetings, at least for the finance team at Capchase, is to stay consistent about what we show to the board. In a fast-growing company with new products frequently being rolled out, there is simply too much we can update the board on at any given time.
That’s why distilling information down and separating abstract updates from updates that can be reported on in a standardized way is imperative. Having a standardized method for reporting can help complex information sink in with board members, which leads to better discussions and ultimately better outcomes for the business.
4. Identify the big changes, and brief stakeholders on them ahead of time
Without fail, our most effective board meetings occurred when we properly identified the key changes and important items that board members were most likely to react to and briefed the board members on them ahead of time.
Ensuring that your finance team arms your CEO with the necessary data points ahead of time will allow time to answer critical questions and facilitate a more cohesive meeting where board members are ready to engage on a deeper level.
You can do this by identifying ways to summarize these key points in 1-2 page ‘tear sheets’. This will get everyone up to speed and is a great exercise in helping your team identify the key metrics you need to focus on.
5. Think discussion, feedback, and questions—not reporting
When preparing for a board meeting, the finance team focuses on a few key drivers of the business and highlights a proposed plan of action for each.
By focusing on these drivers rather than reporting actuals, the finance team can solicit feedback and opinions from board members on alternate ways of addressing an opportunity.
As a part of this process, we also recommend planning ahead on key questions you’d like to ask the board. Pay special attention to specific areas board members may have expertise in, or situations certain board members may have past experience in with other companies in their portfolio.
This will help you ensure you’re soliciting constructive feedback that can benefit your company’s performance.
6. Always walk away with action items and motivation
Board meetings should always result in action items for the finance team to work on.
Try to focus on action items that will continue to be important going forward rather than ad-hoc items. Meet as a team to discuss all the feedback points and action items, so you can see where you can weave in new analyses or answer outstanding questions.
This ensures that the finance team isn’t creating a web of disconnected analyses, but is instead deepening and expanding the core infrastructure that will continue to be used going forward to inform decision-making.
7. Always solicit feedback to improve
The finance team has the unique challenge of understanding many moving pieces of the business and presenting them in a cohesive manner. This is no easy task, and there are almost always opportunities to improve how information is presented, both analytically and verbally.
Having follow-up sessions with the CEO to understand where the finance team can improve in supporting the vision of the business can be very helpful in ensuring that you are always “raising the bar” and presenting the business in the best, most truthful light possible.
Every business is unique, and there is no perfect playbook for how finance teams should approach board meetings that will apply across all business models, stages, teams, and so on. However, the above guidelines are some of the key strategies that we always keep in mind at Capchase. Hopefully, a few of them will be helpful for you as you think about how to get the most out of your board meetings.