We say it all the time – ‘Preparation is the key to success in the boardroom.’ That’s why we call our company DirectorPrep. That’s why our tagline is ‘Ready for your board meeting?’
And that’s why we developed the PREP Framework that provides individual directors with a consistent, repeatable process to prepare for board meetings. We want to support directors to be ready for their board meeting every time. (Visit the PREP for Success page on our website to download the PREP Framework.)
Being ready brings with it a state of energy and anticipation. When we are really well-prepared for an upcoming meeting, we can feel confident and ready to collaborate, contribute and influence board decisions.
“One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.” – Arthur Ashe, American tennis champion
As directors, our commitment to prepare thoroughly is critical to our boards’ success. Organizations need directors who are willing to put in the time and do the work to make an impact. There is limited opportunity to meet face-to-face (or virtually), so it’s crucial to use meeting time effectively. Ensuring that board meetings are effective comes down to each board member being well-prepared. This allows the board to focus on moving forward with strategic issues, instead of spending time reviewing background information and reports that were available before the meeting.
The very idea of an unprepared board director is so objectionable that the NACD (National Association of Corporate Directors) included a description of ‘The Unprepared’ in its 'Field Guide to Bad Directors', an article that is completely serious despite its tongue-in-cheek title.
As the NACD explains in the article, “Bad directors come in many forms and are found, of course, across all industry and sector domains — anywhere a corporate board is operating and governing, including in non-profit entities. … Their types are as recognizable as they are prevalent. They are cartoonish when described (or pictured), but they are very real, populating the landscape of directorship in America and the global markets that our nation drives.”
I’m pretty sure none of us want to be labeled an ‘unprepared’ or a ‘fifteen-percenter.’ To avoid that label, we can make it a priority to spend adequate time and attention in preparing for each and every board or committee meeting.
“You hit home runs not by chance, but by preparation.” – Roger Maris, American baseball player
Sometimes, when you open up the board package for an upcoming meeting (whether paper or electronic), the length of the agenda and the volume of material can be overwhelming. (See our blog post, “The Board package just arrived. And it looks BIG.”)
I don’t know about you, but there have been times when I opened up the board package, took one look at the number of pages, and immediately closed it back up with a sigh. But in the end, I’ve always returned to it and made a real effort to work my way through it before the meeting. I know I owe it to the board, and to the organization I serve, to show up at the meeting well-prepared and ready to participate.
One technique that has really helped me during my PREP work is to create, in my mind’s eye, a view of the meeting as a whole. Rather than considering the meeting to be a series of discrete items, as they are listed on the agenda, it has served me well to stop and think holistically about the meeting - what it really means for the organization and where it fits in the board’s annual calendar.
I find the DirectorPrep PREP Guide to be really useful in this approach. The Guide has me considering questions such as:
With this approach, I quite often find that the best technique is not to start at the beginning and work my way through to the end, but instead to start with the meeting’s focus, the areas of greatest strategic importance, and the places where I can add value.
While I am fresh and alert, I spend my time with those items. These are the areas where I may decide to dig deeper, do some research, or make some phone calls. These are also the areas where I will pull together some questions that align with my priorities – questions that I know might kick start some great discussions at the upcoming meeting.
For me, this is how I make sure that I’m in a position to make an impact, contribute value, and influence decisions.
Once I’m feeling comfortable in those areas, I’ll move on to read the rest of the agenda items and supporting material. I want to make sure that I have reviewed the entire board package. After all, I don’t want to be a ‘fifteen-percenter.’
If you’re a DirectorPrep member (click here to find out more about membership), you can download the DirectorPrep PREP Guide before every meeting to support you in your preparation and help you cultivate a holistic view of meetings.
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Scott Baldwin is a certified corporate director (ICD.D) and co-founder of DirectorPrep.com – an online hub with hundreds of guideline questions and resources to help prepare for your next board meeting.
Share Your Insight: How do you prepare for board meetings?