What do nonprofits organizations, municipalities, libraries, large corporations, and brand-new startups have in common? They're all governed by boards of directors. And whether you're chairing a board, sitting on one or more, or answering to one as a company leader, you know that these groups can be deeply inefficient, with archaic rules, never-ending meetings, and directors who are too distracted by their own businesses to fully focus on the matters at hand.
While board meetings will never be anyone's idea of fun, most can run much more efficiently, according to Joe Ruck, CEO of board collaboration platform Boardvantage. Though many board members view board meetings and board duties as unpleasant obligations, a few simple changes will increase your board's efficiency, and increase the appeal of serving on your board.
Here are his recommendations:
1. Have lots of communication between meetings.
It's hard to make a lot progress during a meeting if you have to spend a large portion of it bringing board members up to speed on everything that's happened since the last meeting several months earlier. "In a 24/7 world the idea of quarterly meetings is arguably out of step with today's pace of information flow," Ruck says. "But gathering board members for more frequent meetings isn't realistic either."
So, he suggests, decouple status reporting from decision-making. "Provide regular updates between meetings. This frees up precious meeting time for discussion on strategic topics." These updates can take the form of a regular CEO letter, a portal with information updated weekly, or some other method. "The idea is to keep directors abreast of significant development as they occur."
2. Give regular--and predictable--reports on key metrics.
"The primary responsibility of directors is governance--making decisions, typically with long-term consequences," Ruck says. "But in far too many cases, directors struggle to get the type and form of information they require to do so."
Begin by asking board members which metrics they see as the most valuable, and then develop a process for regularly reporting those metrics, he says. Make sure to provide these metrics in the same structure and format each time. And wherever possible, have one set of reports for board members, executives, and any other leaders or administrators. "That way, directors know what to expect and can easily track trends over time," he says. "And all members of the leadership team get the same critical information."
3. Have the board join the 21st century.
"Boards can be steeped in decades of tradition, especially in organizations with a long history," Ruck notes. "And regulatory oversight makes directors understandably cautious so as not to run afoul of compliance requirements."
These two factors together have led many boards to resist using many modern online tools. But, Ruck says, there's no good excuse for being change-averse. "Today boards must be willing to open the door to technology, or risk being out of step with the world around them."
4. Lose the board book.
"Paper board books take too long to compile, are too bulky to carry around, and are expensive to prepare and distribute," Ruck says. Not only that, they are often out of date by the time board members receive them. And because board members may spend a lot of time on the road, getting a physical book into their hands in time for a meeting can prove challenging. Instead, create an online source where board members can access up-to-date information whenever they need it.
5. Take security seriously.
Many boards have to deal with highly sensitive and confidential information. If this is true of your board, then make sure that sensitive information is safeguarded as it's made available to board members. "Security is not just about preventing intrusion. Prevention of leaks is equally important, deliberate or accidental," Ruck notes.
Discoverability--information that can be accessed in a lawsuit--is another big consideration. For all these reasons, it's best to keep sensitive board information out of email, Ruck says. Instead, choose a communication tool that's been vetted for security by your IT team. That way, board members can get the information they need in real time, without worry that it might fall into the wrong hands.