“A good Board Of Directors team is one where ideas are flowing fluidly - and where each idea is met with an initial welcome, an intellectual challenge, an expression of gratitude, a rigorous scrutiny and a readiness for action.” - Hendrith Vanlon Smith, Jr.
For founders, board meetings are a polarizing subject.
Entrepreneur magazine reported how only 43% of CEOs found true value or had a positive experience during a board meeting. Yet, these meetings are absolutely vital to the health of an organization.
From monitoring company progress to reviewing the P&L and weighing in on decisions, the board of directors have their work cut out in positively impacting the future of the business. This short period of time is therefore highly structured and topic-heavy.
That’s why it helps for founders, executives, and anyone else presenting at a board meeting to focus on two key objectives: communicating value and maintaining accuracy.
The missed opportunity lurking in board meetings
The board of directors play three key roles, according to business mogul, Warren Buffet:
- Mentor the CEO and ensure the right fit for the company
- Steer decisions in the right direction
- Weigh in and have balanced discussions on the economics of each strategic move
However, there is at times a disconnect between the board and the presenters at a board meeting. Whereas the board is most effective when providing independent judgment on key challenges, things can get a little passive and surface-level unless the presentation is structured in such a way that derives maximum benefit.
For example, when executives teams come to board meetings with their minds made up on potential decisions, presentations tend to feature data that paints a particular picture.
But what’s lurking in the supposed mess of data that may be overlooked for vanity metrics? There could exist the seed of the next industry-breaking innovation, if only the right data was presented and the right conversations were had.
The route to such impactful board meetings lies in time management, data wealth, and using the right tools for effective communication.
What stands in the way of effective board presentations
Board meeting prep starts well ahead of the actual presentation date, anywhere from a few days to several weeks in advance. This makes sense, given the amount of pre-read materials going out before D-Day.
Yet somehow, all the time in the world doesn't seem to be enough to tweak that deck or those pesky numbers just right. Why?
Data wrangling takes forever
You’re fetching data from several different sources, each dataset likely prepared by a different department.
Not only do you have to double-check each number for accuracy, misaligned teams might be defining the same number in different ways.
The result is essentially a huge portion of time spent on validating data and getting cross-functional teams to agree on them. And after all that effort, there’s still space for human error.
It’s a pain to refresh your numbers
The nature of data is fluid. It changes, often faster, than the rate at which your business transforms.
For companies growing at a rapid pace, this means revisions, endless versioning, and inevitable long hours spent on mundane tasks. Even when delegated, it can quickly grow frustrating to have to constantly revise not only the numbers, but also the overall story they tell.
Speaking of the story:
- Bird’s eye view of the state of the business
- Deep-dive into the Profit & Loss statement (P&L)
- Hiring and operational updates
- Spotlight and drill-down into an outstanding challenge or topic
- Interesting customer stories and customer health updates
This flow covers all the bases, transparently sharing business updates and progress against growth goals while also going beyond surface-level on a few key topics.
However, the latter part of this flow often gets neglected, with discussions centering around mainly reporting metrics.
And when said metrics poorly represent true business impact, they tend to be distracting. This results in deviating conversations that cast a shadow over the real challenges or progress of the company.
A way forward for error-free board presentations that drive home an impactful message
To recap, we’ve covered how
- Board meetings are an opportunity to have meaningful conversations and exchange ideas
- These conversations end up meandering, or never happening, due to ineffective presentations
- The culprit behind ineffective board presentations is data wrangling and inaccuracy, constant refreshes, and narratives lost behind vanity reporting — three factors grouped together as “lack of time”
How do you move forward?
Well, the first step in finding a solution is acknowledging the problem, and then taking concrete steps to mitigate the problem. Here’s a checklist you can use to work towards better board presentations:
Disclaimer: this checklist works best when you’ve implemented Pigment for your business planning lifecycle, but you can still follow the line items to achieve significant improvements.
1. Ensure data accuracy by integrating with your entire tech stack
That’s right, the first step towards better board presentations starts with how you source your data.
Your CRM and ERP, or your billing and accounting systems, even just a data warehouse, all hold key data that is usually manually exported and imported into wherever you conduct analyses.
But this manual intervention is a recipe for error. Moreover, it’s completely unnecessary in today’s world: not only can modern business planning platforms integrate with all your data sources, you can also schedule data to be fed into your business models for timely, accurate data.
Final note, access rights is an extremely important topic at this stage. Implementing access rights will prevent people from viewing or modifying data unless it is appropriate for their role.
2. Enable cross-functional alignment by empowering your teams to collaborate on data
Teams are actually more aligned than you think. They are united by the common mission and vision of the organization, and (ideally) are working towards the same key results.
Misalignment occurs when teams aren’t provided the means to collaborate productively within a platform that serves as the single source of truth.
Achieving this alignment means that your business leaders are reporting with data that syncs together to form one comprehensive picture. When you achieve this level of data cohesion, your board presentation will almost craft itself.
It’s also a good look to have in front of your board—a culture of business partnership and cross-functional leaders working together for the betterment of the company.
3. Unify your data under overarching business objectives
You’ve integrated your data and aligned your team. What next? Tie it all together in a beautiful presentation that tells the story of your long-term business objectives.
This is best understood with an example, so here’s one: market downturns.
Say you’re a startup with aggressive growth goals—when all of a sudden, the tables turn. Everyone’s talking recession and downturns and now your board wants to know how you plan to address the economic situation while still meeting goals.
First off, it helps to know that the data you’re working with is timely, accurate, and synchronized across all departments of the company. Now, you can craft a narrative that addresses your short-term hiring plans and expense policies, for example. You can supplement your standard metrics by narrowing in on profitability or capital efficiency.
In summary, your board presentation should move past shallow or repetitive reporting into strong storytelling that inspires helpful conversations and drives critical decisions.
4. Automate your data refreshes to save valuable time
Here’s a neat hack: did you know you can bypass the dance of manual data exports?
No longer do you have to export data from your planning platform into spreadsheets, and then update each page of your presentation deck. Pigment’s Google Sheets connector does it all for you at the click of a button.
Just like data integrations and automatic imports can shorten data preparation time, tools like the Google Sheets connector can reduce the time you spend on massaging data into a presentation.
This gives you the added benefit of being to incorporate last minute changes, resulting in the most accurate picture to present to your board.
Utilize the time saved to incorporate topic drill-downs or deeper analyses of key issues that would benefit from discussion from your board.
Board meetings don’t have to be scary, high-risk events. Building the initial infrastructure for data accuracy and timeliness, combined with investment in the right technology, can cut data prep time by as much as 80%, leaving you with time to focus on effectively communicating your progress and aspirations to your board.