Here's part two in our series on how to perform better in the boardroom. We interviewed directors of SaaS startups to get their insights. Quotes are anonymous to enable directors to speak their mind
1: Check Your Pompoms At The Door
First off it's worth reiterating what was said in the recent board relations article. Startup board members aren't there to catch out or beat up the CEO. So don't come into the board meeting as the external CEO, being the "everything is rosy" cheerleader. These guys are on your side, keen to get the business humming.
2: Get Naked
OK, poetic licence here. Transparency and nudity are similar aren't they? If you're optimistic in nature, take some time to actively seek out bad news. It'll balance your perspective and help ensure transparency. Bill Gates is known to require 50% of reports to be bad news, and he's a pretty successful guy.
"Most CEOs need to be arrogant and bull headed to survive in a startup; but they must learn transparency. I need them to say "here are our problems and this is what I want us to solve".
3: Don't Enable Distractions
Avoiding operational happy talk can be challenging for a board, particularly if the CEO has a vague agenda and produces CEO commentary that's highly anecdotal.
Give specific metrics in your commentary so there's less need for clarification:
"I talked to my aunty last week who's using our product. She loves us. We're finding that most aunties love us."
"Our NPS metric across our Aunty demographic has declined by 2 points with high pricing as the key trend"
Insert questions you want answered into your agenda, not broad topics. This brings focus to outcomes rather than conversations:
- Bobsled capital expenditure project
- Ramping up training expenditure
- Expansion into Jamaica
- Are we prepared to purchase a bobsled?
- Should we ramp up the training of our sales team from x to y this month?
- Is the board prepared to release the $25,000 needed for expansion into Jamaica this month?
4: It's Not Personal If It's Planned
If you have a plan with clear milestones each month, expectations are clear. It takes variables out of the equation and brings focus. There's less room for personal questions of work ethic or debate about direction. Having no plan leads to conversations like this:
CEO: We've made great progress on sausage production this month.
Director: Define great progress
CEO: I put heaps of focus on it and we grew it 30%.
Director: How do I know that's great progress?
CEO: I'm telling you it is, because we worked really hard at it?
Director: I don't even like sausages. And I think you could have grown it 50%.
To get even more accountable. External benchmarks are brilliant additions to any plan. Find them here https://baremetrics.com/open
Plans help boards cut through the bull. Help them by having clear milestones that you refer to regularly.
5: Agree What Not To Do
Like a certain type of cheese, a start-up has holes in it if you're growing fast. It's frustrating for all when everyone knows what needs to be done, but you don't have the internal skills or resources to contract it out.
So gaining priority to the point of crossing stuff off your list (for now) is essential.
When building your plan, ask "what are the things that we shouldn't be doing?" to the board. Deciding what you're not going to do is more important than agreeing what you're going to do. It's hard, but brings focus."
6: Manage Operational Conversations
Your role as CEO requires you to make operational decisions. This isn't the board's role but can be mistaken as such. If you want to talk about operations, make it clear that you're simply seeking advice. For example "This is an operational matter that I'd like to now table. I'll take your input then make my decision". Giving clarity removes the idea that your seeking a binding decision and maintains your control.
7: Deal With Conflicting Advice
Lastly, coffee heals a myriad of wounds. Conflicting advice from directors can quickly put CEOs in an awkward situation and drive tension in the board room.
"My advice is to respectfully let the board members know that you're getting conflicting advice and bring the two of them together over coffee to gain their different perspectives and respectfully talk through it."
The same goes after pretty much any heated board meeting. Get a coffee in the calendar and gain a depth of understanding on the topic that created the heat. You'll learn something at the least.
Your aim is to ensure that you're not disrupting anybody's ego. Make it clear that you'll get their feedback and make a decision; or refer the decision to the Chairman if it's mission critical.
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AskNicely helps businesses measure and improve customer happiness. The "How to Perform Better in the Boardroom" series of posts is aimed at helping start-up CEO’s build an effective board which helps shape quality strategy, leading to quality service and happier customers.