Snapshots and tips to improve board meetings
Tuesday, September 03, 2019
Associations and chambers are led by volunteers asked to share their time and talents as a board to advance a mission, purpose or cause.
One thing a chief staff person or executive director does not want to do is waste the time of the board. There are simple methods to enhance board engagement.
One method is the board snapshot, a visual image of a situation. It transforms a lengthy report into a graphic depicting the important details. Most snapshots allow for the comparison of information from meeting to meeting.
A snapshot is the starting point for understanding important information. Additional questions can be asked after the snapshot is digested. For example, “What caused the drop in membership,” or “How does this compare to our last report?”
Snapshots, sometimes called dashboards or scorecards, are a solution to reduce the reports directors endure at a meeting.
The average board agenda includes 15 to 20 reports. Reports are presented in oral or written formats. Directors politely listen trying to ascertain the highlights and then ask questions. Seldom are reports consistent, each author using a different format of what they think is important to present.
While directors may do their best to stay alert, a series of reports can be frustrating. Directors may wonder, “When will we get to the important information?” Before you know it, the meeting is nearly over; the only motion to pass was approval of the prior minutes.
Last year I asked the executive committee of the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce, “How can we make our board meetings more engaging and less about reporting?”
We had a dozen reports on every meeting agenda. Most our time was used for updates about the chamber. There was a president’s report, officer updates, financial report, membership report, events update, and committee updates mostly prepared by staff.
It is ironic how much time we spend on getting the right people to serve on a board. Unfortunately, once officially installed, we bombard them with reports, failing to use their time wisely.
With so many reports on the agenda there was no time for substantive discussions. This might explain why it becomes harder to get a quorum to attend meetings. One would think a board would focus most of its time on advancing a mission and the strategic goals.
Converting to Snapshots
We sought out best practices to make our board meetings effective and efficient. Many of the best techniques I have learned from the Maine Association of Chamber Executives. MACCE provides peer support, training and professional development.
One of the practices demonstrated at a MACCE meeting was dashboards and snapshots. The one-page document is a recap of financials, membership, events, programs, committees and more.
In just a page we summarize all the reports, replacing the updates from staff, committees and officers. To be honest, the reports distributed in advance were seldom read in entirety by busy volunteers.
I experimented with creating a snapshot for the board to see how it would be received, gathering their feedback about what they liked and didn’t like.
The inaugural snapshot was distributed during a summer month when the board did not meet. The feedback was immediate and positive!
The next step was to present the snapshot at the next scheduled board meeting. They adapted to the idea immediately, preferring snapshots over lengthy reports.
10 Steps for Implementation
1. Ask the board what metrics they want reported as snapshots.
2. Keep the snapshot report to a single page.
3. Do a test run with the leadership, inviting feedback:
- Do they like the graphic format?
- Are we reporting what’s most important?
- Is the data too little, too much, or just right?
4. Create a template that is easily updated (plug and play).
5. Include hyperlinks to documents for directors wanting more information.
6. Involve the staff so they can prepare and update the snapshots.
7. Distribute the snapshot reports in advance of the meeting to save even more time.
8. To promote transparency, keep the reports for reference in a board portal and provide updates even when they do not meet as a board.
9. Highlight information that needs to be brought to their attention.
10. Evaluate effectiveness of the snapshots and what can be improved.
This idea has saved time while improving board engagement and meeting outcomes.
In addition to keeping the board focused on easy to visualize performance metrics, another tip is to include the mission on the agenda. The mission should frame nearly every discussion and decision at the board table.
Consider removing “new business” from the agenda. Include a “call for new business” when the meeting notice is distributed. Ask directors to submit any new business to the chief elected officer or executive director before the meeting.
Nobody wants a surprise at the end of a meeting when a director says, “I have a couple of items we should consider under new business.”
Finally, consider how often the board meets. Is it necessary to convene every month? If there is no reason to meet, postpone it to give directors back their valuable time.
With these tips, a board has more opportunity to be strategic. Attendance should increase as they realize time won’t be wasted.
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