Board meetings can range from extremely productive, where strategic issues are addressed, to a free for all. Mark Suster, a leading VC at Upfront Ventures, has a recent post on how to control chaotic Board discussions. He discusses a number of ways Board Directors can derail meetings and prescribes methods to avoid common pitfalls. I recommend that you read the post as well as his previous post on how to prepare for board meetings and how to set the agenda.
In addition to the issues that Suster highlights, the structure of the presentation is a key determinant in the success of the meetings. Clear communication aligns the entire Board on your vision and the chosen path to achieve your goals. Based on my experience, the most successful Board meetings start with a single framework that Cue Ball Partner, @AnthonyTjan, created. The framework is a simple 5×5 matrix with the 5 priorities spelled out on the left side of the page. Alongside each priority, you should provide a quantifiable measure of success, target date of completion, commentary on progress that was made, and proposed next steps. An example of a company’s top priorities is below:
The power of the slide comes from its simplicity and clarity. A quick glance will explain an awful lot about your company. After presenting the slide, you will immediately accomplish a few things:
- Build Alignment on Priorities: Codifying and presenting these priorities ensures that each member is in agreement on how the business should move forward, which empowers the CEO to execute. Additionally, by stating the company’s priorities so clearly, Directors will not be caught off guard by the direction of the business. This clarity promotes a collaborative dynamic between the CEO and the Board rather than a tenuous, “Board vs. CEO” relationship. A good litmus test for whether you have established alignment among your Board members is whether each member can accurately recite the five priorities of the business
- Foster Agreement on Quantified Measures of Success: Not only will Directors be able to recite the top priorities, but they will also be in agreement on how success is measured. Often Board members have different styles and different motivations e.g. some may want hyper growth; others may prefer slow or more profitable growth. Balancing conflicting opinions can be challenging, and it will be impossible if you don’t define success upfront. Working with the Board to quantify success will ensure that every one is on the same page on whether the goals were achieved.
- Update on Progress and Provide Clarity on Next Steps: Stating progress and next steps will help you contextualize past and future investments at the company. By frontloading the debate on establishing the top priorities and framing initiatives in context, you will preempt any discussion on why an investment is being made, and shift them to short conversations on what you are doing and how you are getting there. For example, if you proposed an expansion of your product to a different vertical, the dialogue would be much more effective if you could frame it within a strategic priority such as distribution to establish network effect. The positioning would focus the conversation on whether the new vertical was the most impactful tactic for expansion rather than revisiting the strategy.
- Establish Focus: The framework provides more benefit than simply being a reporting mechanism to your Board. The exercise of codifying the top five priorities will help you step back from the day to day grind to define what is most important. Dick Harrington, Cue Ball Chairman, constantly reminds me and the CEOs of our portfolio companies, that “it is better to move 5 things a mile than 25 things an inch.” While there is often so much to do at a startup, ensuring that you are laser focused on only five things at a time will make you most effective.
I recommend that this slide should be used very early in each Board presentation as well as serve as a structure for the rest of the content. In fact, if the body of the presentation is not aligned with at least one of the five priorities, then the objectives are likely poorly defined and should be revisited. After defining these priorities and whipping up a presentation, you will now be able to spend more time building your business rather than managing your Board.
You can download a template of the slide here: Priorities Slide.pptx