5 Classic Boardroom Mistakes

Hi readers,

This blog is not about sales, which is my first love and my strongest suite, NOR is it about marketing, which is another of my contemporary strong suites, and an ever evolving skill set, BUT its about a far more serious subject- managing board members and their expectations ( hopefully with some level of expertise, borne out of confidence and a balanced EQ)

Think it’s “no big deal.” The CEO walks into your office and nonchalantly says, “You’ve got 20 minutes to pitch your business unit’s plan at tomorrow’s board meeting.” Your near-panic is visible, so he adds, “Don’t sweat it; it’s no big deal.” Just because he says or acts as if it’s no big deal doesn’t mean it’s no big deal. I’m sure his first time was a big deal. Prepare. Know your material cold and be ready for a healthy amount of Q&A.

My personal experience– as I have progressed , professionally over the last 18 years, leading to my role as the P&L head for a CPG business in Africa, I was actively involved in making business presentations to the board. I had the good fortune to have wonderful mentors, who provided me with their insights on how to manage C-Level executives and powerful board members. So when ever the CEO says ” its no big deal”, he actually means THATS the deal!! Saying “its no big deal” is like a mere formality, more like office speak; so keep that in mind…ALWAYS!!

Walk in with a half-baked plan. Boards are typically comprised of smart, opinionated people who are also former or current executives. If you pitch a half-baked plan, it may get twisted, debated, and mutated to the point where you end up getting a green light to do something that bears little or no resemblance to your original plan. And if it fails, it’s still your plan … and your fault.

My personal experience-  I never, never , never ever under-estimated the people who sat in the board- my logic is simple; you may believe ( and rightly so) that your smarts are contemporary, and therefore you have been called to make THAT important presentation to the board, BUT you have to be mindful of the fact that stares you in your face- the board members are THERE because they have skill sets that you currently dont possess – it may be subject matter expertise ( of a level that is not yet within your grasp), business connections across the globe ( which you in all likelihood dont have ) or loads of cash ( which you most probably dont have in your meager bank account!). So in order to make a great first impression to this august assembly, ensure that you burn the midnight oil and go for the kill!

Try to out-maneuver a founder. Don’t underestimate the loyalty, power, and sway even a dysfunctional founder may still have with a board that owes its existence – and perhaps riches – to him. Even if you’re the CEO, you can do irreparable damage to your standing or even get fired – which I’ve seen happen. Exercise extreme caution.

My personal experience- In my opinion, this is like committing political and professional hara kiri…this may be a publicly traded enterprise, BUT make no mistake, the clout of the founder still resonates in the board!!

Expect the board to actually do something. Never forget that it’s the job of company executives to manage, plan, strategize, make decisions, and of course, execute. The board’s job is to provide oversight, advice, and sometimes, connections. If you need something from them, be clear and upfront about it, but don’t expect much more than feedback.

My personal experience-  Its best that you know your place in the business eco-system. The board is there to listen to your business plan, to watch your performance, to put you through your paces with some tough questions, to play the devils advocate and IF they like what they hear and see, they will simply RUBBER STAMP your plan ….thats that ! YOU have to finally get the job done!!

Pitch a controversial plan without support. I watched a president get shot down by the chairman (who incidentally was right) after pitching a controversial acquisition. It was embarrassing in front of all the officers and directors, but it didn’t have to happen. They had a good relationship; the president should have sought one-on-one feedback prior to the meeting. Rally some support before the meeting for hot or controversial ideas.

My personal experience-   Develop some level of political savvy ( even if you hate politics!!). Politics is a reality of all organizations, including families, homes, friend circles etc…so get over your apathy and cultivate this skill. AND know the business eco-system, know the decision makers and the key influence’s in the board. Use political savvy to cultivate “friends” and “supporters” in the team that will be with you in the board room when you make your pitch…if you can cosy up to some key board members at a personal level…great!!

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