How does a start-up CEO determine whether or not the board meeting that just finished was successful?
A successful Board meeting does not just happen; rather, the CEO has to plan and execute it. In an early stage hi-tech company, there may (and should be) an independent chairperson with whom the CEO plans the agenda and executes the meeting. The CEO will write the CEO report that documents progress and problems in executing the strategic and operating plans. It will be the key topic at the board meeting.
In the discussion of the CEO report, it is important that the CEO explain the thought process that led him or her toward the actions taken. The CEO wins or loses points with the board based on the reasoning that informed the decision. Whether the decision was the right one can only be answered in hindsight, and often it is a case of "right decision, wrong outcome.” An experienced board will understand the difference. It is an achievement when the CEO gains the support of the board for sound decisions made based on the information available, even if the outcome was not ideal.
However, a successful board meeting requires more than a status update and justification of actions. The directors are there to support the CEO by providing the benefit of their experience and wisdom. And they never feel better than when asked for advice on important matters, so that they can guide the CEO and company in the right direction.
Therefore, it is wise for the CEO to reflect on upcoming challenges and pick a few to outline in the CEO report, specifically asking the board for advice. As well, the CEO will want to work with the chairperson to make sure there is sufficient time allocated to discuss the issues. The directors will have read the CEO report and had time to reflect on the challenges before the meeting. At the meeting, the CEO will communicate with the chairperson to ensure that the directors have the opportunity to comment fully, and then gather the consensus and indicate the course of action for the company, based on the board’s advice.
In summation, a successful meeting is one where the board members are called upon to advise the CEO, and their advice is followed up on and put into action. The directors are engaged, the CEO gains the benefit of their advice, and usually the decisions will be better for the advice taken. And as a bonus, the process will help strengthen the relations amongst all involved. Success all round.
This article first appeared in the Fall 2014 edition of The Hire Standard – the newsletter of Corporate Recruiters, British Columbia’s leading recruiters of high technology talent.