What Board Meetings Should Accomplish

Credit union board members should keep a clear focus on what they should accomplish in each meeting. To be efficient directors can try to follow this rule of thirds: Strategic Discussion, Reporting and Education. It will keep the focus and improve performance.

by Tim Harrington & Kevin Smith

As we travel around the country working with credit unions, we’re so fortunate to meet great people who are part of the credit union movement. We get to interact with those who have a great deal of experience, people who are happy to share what they’ve learned over the years. We’ve had the opportunity to learn some great practices (and a little bit of nonsense) over the years which we always try to pass along (usually not the nonsense).

Recently we heard from a board member who described very succinctly what the board should accomplish in a board meeting. It was simple, but profound.

The board should spend their valuable time:

1/3 on Strategic Discussion
1/3 on Reporting
1/3 on Educating

There you have it. Clear and on point.

Strategic Discussion

A significant portion of the board’s time should be spent on forward-looking, strategic items. Big-picture thinking, aspirational goals that the directors want/hope/dream that the credit union could/can achieve. This discussion aligns the thinking of the board. It makes sure that everyone is on the same page and it allows for evaluation of those items to make sure everyone agrees. It also offers the opportunity to build on those ideas. In our experience, board members spend the least amount of their time in this area.

Reporting

This reporting area is where we see board members spending the bulk of their scarce time. It’s where they tend to be most comfortable. “How are we doing?” or “How’d we do last month.” It’s looking in the rear-view mirror. Don’t get us wrong. This is an important function of the board – oversight, the fiduciary duty. You need to know what’s going on in the organization. But it’s too easy to get caught up in the detail of all those numbers, and all of those ratios. Often this becomes a routine of “analyzing” numbers that has little impact on what the credit union will or could achieve.

Educating

Seems a little hefty maybe? A full third to education? We don’t think so. This third of the pie does double duty of supporting the Strategic Discussion portion AND the Reporting portion. The right attention on education will make sure that board members are up to speed on the latest trends, issues, concerns, etc. This will allow them to dream bigger and concentrate on those big picture items. Education also makes sure that the directors are in full command of the reporting, a full understanding the of numbers, the ratios and the oversight role. A well-educated board member will not have to get further clarification, or “re-learn” the impact of a trend on a dashboard item. He or she will have this at a glance and not spend too much time on it. Education keeps board members efficient.

There are those who advocate that the board’s time to be spent 80/20, of forward looking/backward looking respectively. That always seemed a bit ambitious given what we’ve typically experienced. (Often, we see the reverse: 20/80, forward/backward.) The “thirds” approach as we recently heard it makes a lot of sense. Particularly as that last third does so much to support the other two equally.

So, what do you think? How’s your time spent?

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