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QUESTION 10: How Do We Get the Most Value Out of Our Limited Time?

By John Pearson

The Most Important Issues on the Agenda Come First

Ram Charan pushes back on the common boardroom practice of presenting financial reports and minor agenda items first—just to get them out of the way. The problem: the board’s mood and psychological energy level sags. “That’s why I suggest that the most important issues on the agenda come first,” Charan writes.

This is not unlike the coaching competency trumpeted in The Coaching Habit: “Cut the intro and ask the question!” Starting strong is powerful, the author writes. “No James Bond movie starts off slowly. Pow! Within ten seconds you’re into the action…and the heart is beating faster.”

The Power of Moments asks, “How do you refresh a meeting that’s grown rote?” Chip and Dan Heath respond: “Break the script.”

QUESTION 10 of 14: How Do We Get the Most Value Out of Our Limited-Time? Owning Up: The 14 Questions Every Board Member Needs to Ask, by Ram Charan (Order from Amazon)

It seems that by chapter 10 in most books, most authors are writing on fumes—just eking out the requisite word count. Not Ram Charan! He’s just warming up. This chapter is packed with practical boardroom wisdom:

ROUTINE VS. IMPACT. “In some cases, boards feel too much time is spent on routine items and resolutions, and not enough on the issues that have a significant impact on business—things like strategy, risk, and succession.”
5 MILLION DECISIONS? “Boards don’t make five million decisions over the course of the year; there are usually only a handful of issues and decisions that significantly impact the business.”
4 OR 5 PRIORITIES. “The CEO and the board’s leadership should identify those four or five, at most six, items that should constitute the bulk of the board’s time and energy in the coming year.” And “Every board should consider for its twelve-month priorities some kind of strategic dashboard…”

“If you have more than five goals,
you have none.”

Peter Drucker

PLAN B. “Discuss management’s plan B to address changing conditions.”

Your meeting time—and your board members’ time—is precious and always limited. So is it time to step back and restructure the meeting agenda? The length and frequency of your meetings? The location and setting? Time to ramp up the Kingdom expectations? Chapter 10 (just nine pages) will help you refresh your meeting. Three more ideas:

END-OF-MEETING DISTILLATION. “The purpose of the distillation is for the CEO to test the items he perceives to be at the center of the whole board’s deliberations, and that requires follow-through. The board can validate that the CEO has covered all the important bases.”
SOCIAL TIME.“…take care not to squeeze out unstructured time together.” Charan encourages adequate social time (pre-meeting and post-meeting meals, etc.) so board members know each other better—which also builds trust.
CEOs MUST COACH PRESENTERS. Direct reports to the CEO should be coached on effective boardroom presentations. Charan suggests a 50/50 time split between presentations and discussion.

See also the advice in 15 Minutes Including Q&A: A Plan to Save the World From Lousy Presentations. And…click here to read why Max De Pree warned, “The chairperson should not permit anyone to read to the board.”

Time is short and “a lot is expected of us,” whines a board member in chapter 10. “Deal with it!” responds Ram Charan. This jam-packed chapter will help boards maximize their limited time—and, for Christ-centered boards, it will also be a reminder to recruit board members who are already Kingdom stewards of their time.

Proverbs 16:33 (The Message) cautions,
“Make your motions and cast your votes, but God has the final say.”

BOARDROOM DISCUSSION: How do we get the most value out of our limited time? What should we add, enhance, change, or drop?

CHECK OUT THESE HELPFUL ECFA RESOURCES • READ: The board at Warm Beach Camp and Conference Center schedules a “Heavy Lifting” segment in every meeting—to address “big rock” agenda items. Read “Decrease Staff Reporting and Increase Heavy Lifting. Consider the good, the bad, and the ugly.” ( Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom. Click here to read Lesson 36.)

• TOOL: See how a “Heavy Lifting” segment—the best use of the board’s time—is incorporated into a quarterly board meeting. Read the blog here and order the book to download the meeting agenda template, “Tool #12, Quarterly Board Meeting Agenda and Recommendations,” in ECFA Tools and Templates for Effective Board Governance: Time-Saving Solutions for Your Board.

 

This article was originally posted on the “Governance of Christ-Centered Organizations” blog, hosted by ECFA.
John Pearson, a board governance consultant and author, was ECFA’s governance blogger from 2011 to 2020.
© 2021, ECFA and John Pearson. All rights reserved.


This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.

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