Managing a Board of Directors
It is simple: Either you the CEO manages the board or it will manage you. Once it starts managing you, the end game is already in play: in a short number of months your services as CEO will no longer be required. As in fired.
The board does not what to manage the startup. They have too much to do with their other startups, especially the ones that are in deep trouble. They do not need one more troubled company (yours). So the board exercises extra energy in attempts to not get to that bad situation. That is one reason they meet with the CEO and core management team each month.
Managing a board of directors may sound like a paradox to first time startup CEOs. After all, the board is the boss of the CEO. But the serial entrepreneurs know what is expected: the CEO leads the board and the board members contribute as each sees best. That is how it is done when it is done right in startups.
Here are some tips for how to manage your board of directors:
· Set a firm calendar of meetings. Such a calendar generates motivation for everybody and makes managing the business easier. Drive the calendar. This adds rhythm to your new enterprise and like a beating heart becomes the focal point for reporting each month on results. Employees will anticipate the date and look forward to it eagerly. Work hard to not make frequent changes in either time of start or day of meeting. Expect a lot of people to be on the phone to attend board meetings.
· Prepare materials for a three hour board meeting. That is not a delegated job. It is your job. It is your presentation. Yes, there will be reports by your core team, but the agenda and most important information is yours. You will have to create your own PowerPoint slides. That is one special aspect of being CEO of a startup.
· Let the core team present. Each of your key direct reports will be expected to join the board meeting for most of the time and stand up to present their own report. This includes engineering, technology, marketing, sales, human resources and financial departments. This is important time for each person to learn to be grilled about what has happened on their watch. They share the issues with you about what the board is focused on. That makes managing the company easier.
· Attendees will include time consuming observers. These are non-board members who are investors. And the non-partners of board members. At times you will run out of chairs in the room. This is normal. It adds to the importance of you managing the agenda and time, in spite of interruptions and long discussions. Not all questions will get long answers. That takes too long. You have to learn how to be polite, respond and still keep the meeting moving along.
· Give homework to the board members. They are eager to contribute to the success of the startup. Take notes in the meeting of what they volunteer to do (e.g. “I will call Joseph at Amazon to figure out who we should talk to there.”). Present the assignments at the next board meeting and note who completed them and who did not. Venture capitalists are competitive. They will be motivated to deliver and will compare themselves with other board members.