Too many of us that serve on boards have simply become disengaged. We don’t read the material we receive. We skip meetings. And when we do attend, we rarely participate. This is pretty amazing given the fact that, in most cases, we are highly successful individuals or very conscientious. We usually come to the board with a passion to help the organization. We are flattered when we are asked to join the board and look forward to getting to know the other successful people on the board. So the natural question is, what happens to us that turns us off, that shifts us into neutral?
The answer can be any number of things. Some of us cannot say no. We overcommit and can’t find or make the time to be as active as we planned. Often, our primary business responsibilities become so overwhelming that we have to focus exclusively on our full time job. However, in many, and perhaps the majority of cases, the fault lies with the organization and not with us. There are a lot of ways an organization can shift us into neutral. Chief among these ways are the following:
- Board meetings that are too much show and tell
- Giving us too much information
- Board meetings that never end
We plan to write about many of these organization deficits in our blog, but let’s start with the Show and Tell issue. We all remember those days in school when our classmates stood up, one after another, and told us about something they found interesting. Usually, it wasn’t that interesting to us. But we sat there, listening to story after story. The only thing that kept us engaged was the fear that in a few minutes, we would have to do the same thing.
Board meetings are often cut from the same mold. We all get tons of reports—reports from the CEO, reports from the CFO, reports from committees, reports about future reports. It is all very exciting and interesting to those who are giving the reports. But it doesn’t take long for us to slip into a kind of “report coma.” We listen a lot, but the mind goes numb and we hear very little.
There is a better way. First, recognize that all reports are about history. Of course, we need to understand history, but primarily so that we are better prepared to deal with the future. Staff should give us the reports, in writing, before the meeting and keep them short and relevant. At the meetings, ask us to focus on questions, not reports. Encourage different viewpoints. Ask us to actually make decisions, not just accept recommendations from committees.
All of this is to say that there are solutions to boring board meetings. We join boards to make a difference. Please let us do that. If you want our time, please use it wisely. Cut back on the reports. Remember, what we really want is for you to engage our minds, not our ears. Give us information we need, not information that you find fascinating. And, most of all, please don’t show us or tell us, involve us.
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