Boards and Board Meetings

The CEO manages the board and board meetings, not the other way around. Board meetings fail when the CEO doesn’t own and follow her agenda. That agenda should always start with operational updates: the board needs to know how the company is doing. That includes financial and sales reports, product status, and metrics around operational rigor (hiring, communications, marketing, support). If the board has committees, for example to oversee audit and finance or compensation, have those committees meet ahead of time (in person or via phone or video conference) and present updates at the board meeting. The first order of business always needs to be a frank, open, succinct discussion about how the company is performing.

Send out financial and other operational details ahead of time and expect board members to review them and come with questions. Board members who don’t do their homework shouldn’t stick around. In Google’s board meetings, Bill always pushed Eric to ensure that the operations review included a thorough set of highlights and lowlights. Here’s what we did well and what we’re proud of; here’s what we didn’t do so well. Creating a robust set of real lowlights is important for creating a virtuous cycle of respect, trust and candor, which is one thing that makes great boards great. And this level of honesty sets a tone of transparency and honesty that reverberates throughout the company. A company that is honest with its board can be honest with itself, too; people learn that not only is it okay to frankly share bad news, it’s expected.

Who should be on the board? Smart people with good business expertise who care deeply about the company and are genuinely interested in helping and supporting the CEO. A bad board member is someone who just walks in and wants to be the smartest guy in the room and talks too much.