Make your board and staff meetings efficient

A recent blog by Steve Blank, my former boss at Rocket Science Games, got me thinking further about what is wrong with board meetings in startups. The monthly beauty contest whereby the CEO and management team pull together a 35 slide PowerPoint updating the board and investors on the last 30 days progress is truly a waste of time. Steve’s thesis is that a CEO should communicate with the Board, investors and advisors (I’ll call it the “advisory group”) via the Business Model Canvas in a weekly blog format. While an improvement, Steve’s idea doesn’t go far enough.

Another pet peeve of mine is the weekly executive staff meeting. Many CEO’s feel an obligation, rather than a need for such a meeting, and most don’t have a clue on how to run them. There are only two purposes for a staff meeting, 1) to collegially reallocate resources and/or 2) to pivot strategic direction. However, many CEO’s use the staff meeting as a reporting function, or a bully pulpit. Neither is very efficient or frankly, effective. The need for a roundtable discussion should not be dispensed with entirely, but the C-Level time would be better spent ensuring regular communication with the CEO and other executives as issues arise, rather than because it’s a certain day of the week.

In other words, “Let the business run the meetings, rather than the meetings run the business”. I had the pleasure of working with Mike Schuh, when he was CEO of Intrinsa (now he is a partner at Foundation Capital). In his weekly staff meetings he would require all his executives to report their metrics prior to the weekly meeting so we use our time together to assess the need to reallocate scarce resources (mainly cash or people) or to alter the direction of the product development. In this day of cloud computing communicating with the advisory group via the Business Model Canvas is insufficient to inform an advisory group or to manage an executive staff.

At GCG, we have been recommending our CEO’s to use a combination of a data room and a blog whereby documents such as financial or production plans are posted in the room and can be referred to in the blog. In this way the advisory group has a transparent view of the staff’s updated metrics along with summaries of progress written by the CEO. Physical board meetings still have a place for such purposes such as corporate governance or strategy discussions, but our advice is to dump the slide shows.