While serving as CEO for a major U.S. daily newspaper from 1999 to 2006, I was responsible for managing the development and agenda for 26 quarterly board meetings. Over the years, I also have participated as a member or a presenter at more than 100 other board meetings.
Board meetings are a rarely changing ritual to satisfy corporate governance. Many standard procedures are necessary, but I believe it’s time to create more engaging board meetings.
Small yet meaningful changes can make board meetings more effective and engaging:
- Set shorter terms, rotate chairs, and change the frequency of meetings.
- Change the board meeting format so it’s similar to an annual meeting to increase transparency and trust among employees and stakeholders — rather than private affairs. (Set ground rules up front for what remains private).
- Welcome all employees to attend your board meeting. (They also should commit to previously stated privacy ground rules.)
- Get the board out of the usual room. Conduct the meeting at a neutral site (e.g. an auditorium, theatre, conference room on a different floor, or any business-appropriate setting).
- I was always taught the “real” board meeting takes place at the board dinner the night before, which makes it a political affair (as opposed to collaborative). Instead, host a post-meeting get-together, which tends to be lighter and more personal, less formal, and more transparent, with conversation focusing on meeting highlights.
- Add an “organisational learning” component to your meetings to deepen board members’ knowledge. Examples might include:
- Discuss the implications of machine learning and artificial intelligence.
- Read or listen to and discuss a timely book, study or industry presentation (e.g. Michael Wolf’s Future of Tech and Media or Clayton Christensen and David Skok’s Mastering the Art of Disruptive Innovation in Journalism).
- Talk about research and development, and analyse why it is such a big expense at leading companies with the highest valuations.
Don’t be afraid to make changes to the standard agenda. An alternative agenda might look like this:
- Motion to approve minutes from last board meeting. Second.
- Chairperson opening remarks, including high-level overview of committee reports.
- Financial overview.
- Organisational learning presentation and discussion.
- “State of” presentations about key areas such as: company culture, customers, tech and data, strategic plan and key initiatives (discuss what holds true or what needs to change based on new data), corporate development.
- Chairperson closing remarks.
A quote that always stays with me is this: “All of us want to be part of something.” A re-imagined board meeting showcases that philosophy.