We’ve all been in board meetings where someone, usually the CEO gets their ear chewed off. Why does it happen and how can you avoid it?
Here are four simple tips that can be applied to any meeting:
1. Lock in your meeting objective
2. Produce an agenda with very specific topics, associate an appropriate length of time and who from the board or executive will present on the topic
3. Produce ‘pre reading material’ that is distributed at least 3 business prior to the meeting
4. For contentious issues, conduct 1-2 ‘pre calls’ with board members with relevant expertise, to walk them through you’re thinking, test their response. You can then walk into the meeting knowing you’ve got support or not from those best qualified to lead the board discussion.
The four tips above are usually 70% of the battle, however some people just love chewing their CEO’s ears off. Lets check out these folks and explain approaches in dealing with them…
‘Mr detail’ — He is wired to ask 101 questions to understand every little detail of your report. This will badly divert your meeting. There are 2 ways to deal with ‘Mr Detail’ (i) call him the 2 days before and ask if he needs clarification, if you can’t do this then during the meeting say (ii) “these are great questions, I am concerned we may not get through the agenda though, can I make a note of them and follow-up with you in a post meeting call?” Most good-natured people get the polite hint.
‘Ms glass half empty’ — These are people that pour over everything you present. You have six positive items but her mind is wired to find one that needs a good trashing. If this is more important than others then take it on the chin, and say so early on, so you can move on…. But if it’s just catching you out for the sake of it then put the ‘boot in the door’ and keep the meeting on track. It’s your job as CEO to stop it.
‘Mr/Mrs distracted’ — Mr/Mrs distracted has jumped track, is firmly lodged in what is upper most in her mind. This may be political, about their son, or perhaps asking questions about things not on the agenda. They have a ‘bit between their teeth’ and want to chew everybody’s ear off about a completely unrelated topic. The problem with the Mr/Mrs distracted is that they literally can’t stop themselves. The definition of somebody with this ‘disorder’ is somebody who has ‘impulse control’ issues. Provide short answer only, if they persist, note that it is off topic, and ask if it can be discussed at the end if there is time?
‘The unprepared’ — We’ve all been on boards with those who don’t read the materials beforehand. If you are getting questions that are covered in the board pack, answer questions, but noting that it is covered in the board pack. After the third, time they should get it, if they don’t at least everyone else will! NOTE: This does mean that you must know all the detail in your board pack!
‘Ms Pet Topic’ — Ms Pet is like a stuck record about her favourite topic. The best thing to do is keep your response short, and note that there is nothing new that can be added at this stage. Then ask the group if you can move on.
‘Mr Out of his depth’ — This guy doesn’t have enough acumen to be on the board. They often take the meeting down the rabbit holes of their own minds. You need to relentlessly bring them and the meeting back to the topic, noting that if they want to add an item, they can do so for the next meeting. The best thing for the organisation is that they step down. This is easier said than done. – Good luck with this guy, he is a real menace
‘The Buddy’ — He is is the one you need when you are about to lose your ears to the misguided people above. If the board is functioning correctly, then the ‘buddy’ is most often the Chairperson but can be a non-executive board member. She is your point person that keeps the meeting on track. This is the person who will step in when you can’t. The Buddy says, “Bill. Your questions are great and I have some similar questions, too. Would you mind if we just note that topic and try to come back to it at the end of the meeting”? or, “I am sorry but I don’t have time to overrun and I’m worried this is taking us off track.”
The reason most CEOs get their ears chewed off is either because you have not applied the four (4) basic tips for running a meeting, or there is one of the archetypes above who take a meeting off track. Many have good intentions and are willing to behave when asked politely.
Too many CEOs see it as their responsibility to answer every question asked whether germane to the agenda or not. The problem with this is that it both disrespects the time of the whole board AND reduces the time a board has to function productively as a group. The difficulty is that most board members bite their own tongue rather than to speak out against the time-wasting ear chewer. The best CEO’s deal with this politely but firmly.