Protect Your Board Meeting Time & Agenda Like a Mama Bear!

The time at the board meeting should be carefully thought out and protected as the limited and valuable resource that it is. Boards that meet once a month for about two hours need that time focused on the most strategic and the most valuable items. Not on operational details, updates and review (rear view mirror) items. 

by Kevin Smith

That’s right! Like a mama bear protecting her cubs. That’s how fierce you should protect your board meeting time and agenda. Modern credit union boards that I work with generally meet for a couple of hours once a month. That’s not a lot of time. Boards need to use that time very wisely. It’s a scarce resource. The idea that things have become more complex is so commonplace that it’s an overwhelming cliche now. But it’s true, which makes the need to protect the agenda and the time all the more critical. Don’t let “busy work” get in the way of “important work” and discussion at the highest level.  

What Happens a Lot

When we survey boards about board time use (“Do you focus on what’s important and strategic?”), we get a regular “oh, yeah, sure we do.” But what we observe, and what the one-on-one conversations tell us is about the amount of time spent on the trivial, the operational, or on the distractions. We witness it first hand often enough, too often. There’s a lot of good intention here. But also a lot of slippery slopes about what’s important. 

Many board meetings are taken up with updates on projects, or extensive reviews of last month’s or last quarter’s numbers. There’s time spent reviewing policies and updating them. All of this is required by the board, and it’s necessary work. But does it need to happen during the limited time of the board meeting? (Pssst… the answer is “no” unless there are concerns or discussion needed.) CEOs and CFOs spend an awful lot of time giving verbal updates during board meetings, taking up valuable time for strategic discussion. (See below.) 

Often, board members aren’t as prepared as they should be for meetings. This results in people needing to rehash or explain things, taking up valuable time for strategic discussion. 

What Should Happen

First things first: adopt the consent agenda if you haven’t already. It seems like most have done this. It’s a huge time saver and it keeps things focused. However (comma) this only works if everyone does the preparation and the pre-reading. If members aren’t fully prepared for the consent agenda, then in reality you are just skipping things. You must hold each other accountable for coming prepared. 

Do as many pragmatic things as possible in between board meetings. Use your board portal and electronic tools as much as possible. (Again, hold each other accountable for doing this.) There’s a lot of review that directors do via the portal electronically before the board meeting. 

Have the CEO and any other staff members giving an update record these updates via video. (No, don’t have them write these updates because it will take them too long and you’ll doze off while reading them.) Make sure that you communicate to them that these videos should be casual, that they don’t have to be rehearsed or take too long. This should be the same thing they’d do in the meeting, just done ahead of time. Board members MUST review these and send their questions before the board meeting. (Accountability!) 

Structure your agenda so that the strategic discussions come early and have time allotted for them. There’s nothing worse than having several updates, or pragmatic issues “run long” and take up the time of a strategic discussion and cut it short (so that the meeting can be done “on time.” 😕 )

What Isn’t Going to Happen

Things aren’t going to get easier. They’re not going to get less complex. They aren’t going to suddenly take less time. But you CAN protect the meeting time and the agenda for the best work. 

If this all sounds like a lot of work or too much work, I’m not going to mince words: then this isn’t the right job for you. (Yes, it’s a job, even if it doesn’t pay anything.) Credit union board work is harder and more complex than it used to be, requiring the right kind of skill, focus, and, yes, time. We can not expect things to be like they were in the “good old days.” 

Let’s face it – strategic discussion is the most rewarding work of the board. You can structure things so that they’re as efficient as possible. You can hold each other accountable for doing the work in the best time and place. And you can improve the performance of the board. We all need to aim high. It’s a fabulous job worth doing. Our members need us. 


P.S. 

Check out the interesting results from last month’s poll about Boards Behaving Badly! It was interesting to see how spread out the results were. None of these personalities seems significantly more pervasive than the rest. As of this writing we had 96 respondents. Go ahead and keep adding to it! Make sure you check as many as you need and click the “Show Results” button on the bottom. 

As always, we encourage you to leave comments. 

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