I was at a board meeting a few weeks ago as a new director for a well established public company. As I sat there at my first meeting thinking about boards, board roles, board interactions and a myriad of other director related stuff, I reflected on what I've learned over the years about being a director.
Currently, I'm an active board director on six boards, and a past director of 17 others over the years. During that time, I've learned a couple of things about board responsibilities and a few "Rules of the Road". Some of these seem like common sense...now...and some of them took shape only after maneuvering through the difficulties of hitting a couple of speed bumps both personally and corporately as a director.
Coincidentally, over the same last few weeks, I've had a couple of other board-related activities that have peaked my interest in thinking about being a director.
The first was a recent blog in HBR, that asks the question of...
"How CEOs Can Best Manage Their Boards"
Basically, this post provides four general directives that may seem somewhat obvious; however, my experience is that rarely do CEOs think about #3, restructuring their boards, or #4, evaluating their directors.
- Build credibility with investors and employees.
- Recruit able directors
- Restructure the board
- Evaluate the directors
I recently went through a restructuring process on a board where I had been chairman for 10 years, and although the end result was a revitalized board, in asking for the resignations of a couple of directors, I didn't win any popularity contests. I also made a (difficult for me) decision at the same time to step down as chairman and resign from the board simply because it was time... way past time, actually.
Coincidentally, today marks my last board meeting at Common Angels, where I've been an active director and Chairman for a number of years. The excitement about the Common Angels board, btw, is the quality, the energy and the deep experience of the other outside directors and the energetic engagement of both Maia and James who run the place.
As I've continued to noodle around board responsibilities and various structures over the last couple of weeks, I was asked by Rob Adelson, a senior law partner at Engel & Schultz, to be part of a Boston ENET panel discussing board formation and related issues. The format was a small panel which included two heavily experienced investors and excellent board members in the startup community, Travis Connors from OwnerIQ and Jean Hammond, a well known early stage investor and a partner at Learn Launch. We all had an opportunity to show a few slides and most importantly to engage with the 100+ people in the room.
You can click on to the ENET site to view our slides which will give you a number of very practical ideas to think about and a few "Rules of the Road" to consider.
The event was held last week at Microsoft in Cambridge, and, both in the preparation for it, and then in the actual discussions with the entrepreneurs in the audience, it got me to thinking specifically about the role of sales management in presenting to and working with their board members. As a result, I thought that I would share a few "Do's & Don'ts" to consider prior to going into your next board meeting:
- Provide all of the sales and marketing related performance data 2 to 3 days ahead. In good times and bad, it's much better to get the data out there and have everyone be able to sift through the numbers and reflect for a couple of days on what they've seen.
- Then give the outside directors a call prior to the meeting to field any questions that they might have.
- During the actual board meeting, sales management's job should be to engage the directors in both strategic and tactical opportunities if things are going well, or in solutions to problems if overall sales performance has been below the curve. These people are very bright along with being heavily experienced, so use their experience!
- No matter what the performance of the company is at any given time, never attempt to hide bad news. Get it out there in all its ugliness and don't attempt to put lipstick on the pig if that's what it is. Then engage everyone in solutions.
- Think of a board meeting as the presentation of your quarterly report card. Yes, of course, that's one of the functions that will take place, but the more critical opportunity is to look to your directors for advice, involvement and connections.
I'd like to hear your own "Rules of the Foad" regarding boards and directors, and especially what you would recommend to sales management in their interactions with directors.
Just jot down your comments in this post. In the meantime...
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I'm starting to get prepared for my fall marketing course at Tufts, where I'm a Professor of Marketing in the entrepreneurial studies department.
Each semester I look for six complex marketing assignments that are given to five person teams of juniors and seniors as semester-long projects. All of the course material is then taught around these projects
A syllabus along with the project outlines are sent to the students in early July with the requirement that they do research on the companies during the summer and define in writing before they come to the first class, why they should be accepted into the class. This is a very oversold class, and this is one of the ways through which I measure motivation and hard work. Right now, we have 46 students between registered, the wait list and the wait-wait list, and I need to bring that down to 32 by September. It always works!
If you're interested in applying to be part of this very rewarding project, just let me know by email, and I will send you the instructions and what is expected of both the companies and the students. At the end of the semester, the company management teams will come to Tufts for 60 minute presentations along with delivering all of the project material, research data and recommendations that have been prepared.
It's a wonderful and superbly rewarding experience...for you in the pursuit of added depth in your marketing plans, and for the students as they get introduced to senior management from real world companies