Now board agendas might not be described as exciting. In fact, you might even say they’re a bit mundane. But in the ‘task versus importance’ ratio, a board agenda is right up there at the top.
In its simplest analogy, a board agenda is probably a bit like a shopping list and making one can sometimes be hurried, made without due care and attention, and, of course, this leads to the inevitable consequences.
The weekly shop is approaching and we need to make a list. But sometimes we’re in a rush, and don’t have time to ask anyone else what they need and just scribble a few things down – some of the essentials, because we’ll remember what we need when we get there. And what happens? We forget. We’ve all been there – walking up and down the same aisles again and again trying to jog our memory, wasting time and inevitably, spending a fortune on things we don’t need.
If a bad shopping list leads to dissatisfaction and frustration, think of the effects on a board meeting with a poorly prepared board agenda. On top of that, imagine your shopping list was for three months; had to have some continuity with the last shopping list and include contingency planning for the year ahead. Now, we get an idea of how important that little board agenda is and how essential it is to get it right. It gives the board meeting control, direction, sets the tone and provides parameters. It’s the difference between board effectiveness and board inefficiency.
A board agenda has a significant role to play in board meetings and as such the task of setting the agenda ultimately lies with the chair. The CEO and board secretary should probably assist as well, and so everyone can have a chance to get their favourite things on the ‘list’, and to accommodate different tastes, many chairs invite other directors to contribute ideas for the agenda.
Just like a good, balanced diet for a healthy lifestyle, a board agenda needs a good variety of topics for a healthy, productive and effective board meeting. It shouldn’t focus just on the immediate tasks or daily fixes, but, is set with the long term, strategic vision of the company in mind.
A study recently endorsed what we already knew – don’t go shopping when you’re hungry. Why? Because you end up buying high calorie junk food. Rash decisions lead to bad choices. It’s probably good advice for boards when setting the agenda. They should step back and think about the state of business – is it in feast or famine or sated – and then make considered decisions about the agenda.
And talking of energy levels, the order of the agenda can’t be underestimated either. We tend to be more inspired at the start of meetings, so topics should be prioritised accordingly.
Setting a board agenda may be a routine task, but they are critical in supporting successful board meetings – make sure a good one is top of your shopping list.