It's no secret that a well-chosen board can bring a multitude of benefits to your business. It can add clout, open doors. It can have the power to lend relationships, resources and connections. I'm personally so incredibly thankful for the impact our board has had on Simple Mills.
But, where the real value lies is in how you manage it.
Grow It Wisely
Every time I add a board member at Simple Mills, I ask myself what my company needs, and whether or not the individual fits our vision and the existing board we have in place. If the answer is no, it can be better to take a pass even if it means turning down investment.
You'll also want to make sure to vary experience - so that you have someone who is deeper in your industry, someone who is deeper in organizational development, someone deeper in finance, etc.
Certain people can touch on multiple areas, and others can touch on one area. But you need at least one in each of the critical areas of your business.
Equally, look for variation in experience so you have competing views - the strongest boards are ones that can see things from multiple perspectives. Don't weigh on an individual's experience alone. What may have worked for them 10 years ago in their company may not work for you today.
Every time you expand your board, choose people who are smart, strategic, flexible thinkers -- people who can leverage their experience to think critically about where you are today, not just where they have been.
Issues are impossible to avoid. Determine you will mitigate problems as they arise - failing to deliver on responsibilities, disruptive interactions, etc. Will this be the CEO's responsibility, or someone else on the board?
At my company, we currently have a chairman who takes the lead when there are complications. It leaves me to focus on the company issues with board members.
Other frameworks are necessary. This includes the obvious, such as how often the board should meet and how they should prepare for meetings - and the not so obvious, like whether or not you'll have a compensation committee to determine compensation.
Sort out these elements of your board early, and advance of changes or additions you'll make to it.
You'll also want to have rules around lapses in commitment, when guests can be invited, and where and when or if you'll want to involve your leadership team in meetings.
Run Meetings Consistently
How you manage board meetings matters, and having a consistent, structured approach helps.
Send out an agenda ahead of time to make sure others know what you plan to cover and can also chime in with topics they're hoping to discuss. If you'll be sharing a deck, do it a week ahead of time so everyone has a chance to review.
Use the time effectively. While the CEO reports to the board, this shouldn't be a read-out to your superiors. I've found that the best mix is about 30% on sharing where we are at, and 70% on discussing key issues. If people have read the pre-read topics, it makes this aspect of meetings easier.
But, be sure to leave room for some flexibility - we identify key issues ahead of the board meetings so that members know what will be discussed. But, there are always a number of other great issues that board members bring up. Allow space for this at every board gathering.
If there are topics that you would like people to think about before a meeting, schedule calls with them. I do this at Simple Mills so that we have a chance to catch up on items before meetings.
In a perfect world, everyone on your board will be exactly what your company needs and mesh well with you and the other members. More often than not, this won't be the case -- even with the best group chosen.
But, with solid board management and leadership on your part, combined with careful selection board members, you'll extract the most from yours.