An entrepreneur who has transitioned to become the CEO of a new company needs to enlist the help of several experienced, volunteer individuals that can provide extremely valuable guidance. These individuals, alone or in groups, fall into three distinct categories based upon their focus and expertise. Those three groups are:
- Board of Advisors
- Board of Directors
- Customer Boards
In most cases, the three boards are formed in the order listed. Although their functions differ, there are several elements common to all boards and each member as described below. Subsequent articles in this chapter provide more detailed comments about each board category.
Experienced Professionals: All three boards are made of experienced professionals who have many choices as to where they spend their time. Having agreed to work with you is a very positive statement about their opinions about you (the CEO) and the company’s prospects for success. Regularly thank them for their commitment to you and your company.
Time Commitment: Board members typically are busy professionals that naturally need to focus on their own primary businesses and careers. Be very respectful of their time. Avoid general meetings and discussions. Clearly identify issues and requests for guidance that are appropriate for each group. Be very clear on what you want to discuss and what you need. As a general rule, do not expect more than four hours of their time per month – often, it will be less. Also, accept the fact that each member’s primary business must come first; last-minute schedule changes will occur frequently.
Group Meetings: Except for formal Board of Director meetings, most effective interactions with members of Advisor or Customer boards are based on one-on-one or small group meetings. In these smaller individuals with specific insight into the issues of interest can quickly address the issues without spending time with well-meaning individuals who may need time to get up to speed on the issue details. Also, smaller group or one-on-one sessions are far easier to coordinate.
Business Familiarity: With their limited involvement, you cannot expect members of any board to be as familiar with your business, the market, or the competition than you are. Be sure to provide insight and background information about the particular issues that you want to address to provide them with the proper context. Consider holding separate sessions for new members of any board to help them get up to speed.
Specific Issue Discussion: If there is a specific issue of which you need guidance, send out a summary of the issue and any required background information that will give the participants to think about the issue and their recommendations.
Short and Sweet Communications: Board members, like virtually everyone else in business today, is inundated with data. Keep the material that you send to them concise to encourage them to (quickly) prepare before any interactions. However, do not be surprised if they have not reviewed the material beforehand.
TLAs, FLAs, and SMEs: Be careful how you use market and company jargon. Avoid or thoroughly explain any Three Letter Acronyms (TLAs) or Four Letter Acronyms (FLAs) that you use. Do not expect them to be Subject Matter Experts (SMEs).
Member Interactions: Although you may have developed relationships with each group member, many of the group members will only see each other on the infrequent schedule of your group meetings. Be sure to introduce all members at each meeting.
Group Dynamics: It is not uncommon for one member of a group to be more outspoken than others. Be sure to manage the group interactions accordingly. Proactively ask others for their thoughts and opinions which they may be reluctant to volunteer on their own.
Follow-Up: Ask someone to take notes to capture decisions and follow-up action items discussed. Do not feel obligated to follow every suggestion that is offered. However, you should acknowledge what you have done and have chosen what not to do. Boards provide advice and recommendations only. You, not they, are responsible for the company and need to make decisions accordingly. End each meeting with a quick summary of the follow-up action items agreed to during the meeting.
Universal Interest: All members of all boards will have common interests in hearing about the company’s revenue, market dynamics, and competition. Cover these three issues during every interaction unless the interaction is about a singular issue.
Referrals: Ask members for referrals to others that can help you. Warm introductions to prospects, potential business partners, or other individuals that can provide guidance are always more effective than attempting to identify these resources on your own. Embrace the fact that business success is based on relationships far more than it is based on product or service offerings. The secret sauce to success is trust.
Finally, say thank you for each and every interaction that you have with each board member. Their active involvement is the most important single element that will help you be successful.