Less than a year ago, I met the Board for the first time.
I was terrified to walk into a room where the only people I knew were the co-founders and the CFO who dropped into the office once a week for the weekly accounts meeting.
The stakes of making a good impression felt extremely high; I was representing the co-founders and giving the Board of Directors a glimpse into the kind of employees working at the company. Yet despite the high stakes, I was never sat down and briefed on how to approach the board.
Sure, there were articles out there with a wealth of information, but those were always aimed at the CEO. So then what about the people who assist the CEO in managing the board?
Those people are the administrative staff, such as personal assistants (PAs) who are typically younger than the CEO, hold less knowledge of the industry, and are more concerned with implementation than the high level picture.
And that’s what I’m writing about today.
HOW DOES A YOUNG PA MANAGE A BOARD OF DIRECTORS?
Be accommodating and responsive
Even if you’re scheduling anytime between one to three months in advance, there’s still a chance that at least one of the Directors will be unavailable at the proposed date and time. ANCHOVY.’s Directors sit on other boards and are CEOs of their own companies, which means that a common availability is hard to come by, especially when given a short notice.
As soon as an email communicating unavailability comes in, check the CEOs’ calendars, find a next availability and propose that. The faster you act, the faster you’ll arrive at a final date.
Think About Their Experience
Referring back to the above, Directors hold years of experience in their respective fields and carry a certain level of status in society. ANCHOVY. is incredibly lucky to be working so closely with a close knit group of esteemed Directors and it’s important to communicate in a way which is respectful of their status, but also in a way which is human and true to the organisation.
At ANCHOVY., we put great value in the human element and we’ve found that small gestures such as friendly greetings at the door, coffee before meetings and a birthday card on their birthday makes all the difference.
From a more selfish perspective, a good experience with ANCHOVY. allows the Directors to be genuine spokespeople for ANCHOVY., which will result in better connections with the right people and growth for the company.
Ensure Board Meeting Flow
Being efficient in your role is key to building a good relationship between the company and the Board of Directors, but the relationship isn’t the sole element of managing a Board of Directors. It also includes maintaining a Board Meeting structure which makes the best use of the limited time with Directors.
The best way to ensure this is to make sure that the agenda is properly structured. I do this by splitting the agenda into three key parts:
– The Foundation
– The Updates
– The Discussion
Each part is mostly self-explanatory but I’ll deep dive into each a bit more to give you a clearer picture.
The foundation is what starts off the meeting. Here I would include points such as appointment of Chairman, signing of minutes and signing of any additional documents.
Any documents would have been prepared and approved in advance and all that’s left to do is to sign them off.
Updates would typically centre more around the necessary, routine updates which require little discussion. An example of this would be management accounts for the past quarter, update on operations, and updates on ventures which require little to no discussion i.e. the venture is going well, the CEOs know what their end goal is and they’re simply updating the Board on their way forward.
Contrastingly, items that fall under the discussion section include business ideas which are presented to the board for feedback and business ventures with an unclear future. This section typically includes more than one item of discussion and will be split accordingly.
It’s typically in this section of the meeting that you’ll run into some issues when taking minutes.
Take Detailed Minutes But Send a Concise Copy
Minute taking was the experience depicted most terrifyingly from the entire Board Meeting experience. I was told to take three recordings, to write detailed minutes and to expect the Board to rip my edited minutes to shreds with suggested changes.
To put you in the picture, the minutes from my first Board Meeting ran six pages long and the board politely suggested that I present the minutes in a more concise manner the next time round. Now, after almost a year of practice, I do my best to keep edited minutes to two pages or under.
Note that I said edited minutes. The minutes you’re writing during the Board Meeting will be long and mostly nonsensical to any third person, but they’re necessary in capturing all important information.
In the earlier parts of the meetings, minute taking is easier, as the structure tends to be one person updating or presenting, with other members listening and giving brief feedback. As the Board moves on to discussions, this becomes a bit more challenging as the discussion becomes more open and opinions overlap.
This is where writing down who’s speaking and what they’re saying is essential. Those two key pieces of information will make editing a lot easier later on. I find that an audio recording is good to have as a backup, just in case you miss something important, but it’s a lot more difficult and time consuming to listen back, so I wouldn’t recommend keeping it as a main source of information.
When editing, I will read through the minutes drafted during the Board Meeting and I’ll extract the following key points for each discussion item:
– The initial question posed
– Key points raised during the discussion
– Final decision
Once the minutes are summarised, the next step is to mail them out and wait for feedback to come in. Generally, there won’t be too many changes requested and the Board Meeting process is over before you know it.
And that’s when you’re left wondering… so what now?
Keep In Touch
While traditional Board Meetings are held once a quarter, we make sure to meet the Board once a month. Typically, this is done early morning over breakfast as Zak and Benji outline any progress on previously discussed action items and raise concerns for discussion.
A pack of documents will be sent over for reading before the meeting, generally outlining discussion items in place of an agenda. Any updates will come up naturally through the course of discussion.
The setting of these meetings allow informal relationships to develop between the Board of Directors themselves and the CEOs, which helps generate more genuine feedback and an overall stronger relationship.
As a PA or administrative assistant, your main role is managing correspondence and generally acting as the main point of contact with the company.
Approaching your role with the right attitude is key to being successful. As long as you’re approaching your tasks with politeness and professionalism, and learning from past mistakes, your efforts will be well-received.