BoD Management

with Brian Ascher

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Call your BoD at least once in between meetings or as things of importance arise

Brian Ascher

Venture Investor, VenRock Partner, Waterfall Evangelist

Lessons Learned

You cannot have the same level of communication with every BoD member.

The Cardinal Rule of Board Meetings: No Surprises.

If something isn’t working, give your board members a head’s up.


Lesson: BoD Management with Brian Ascher

Step #4 Communication: Call your BoD at least once in between meetings or as things of importance arise

The whole topic of how much communication between board members is a great one, and it's a nuanced topic because that is going to depend on each individual board member. If you have four outside board members, some investors, some industry folks, you're not going to be able to have the same level of communication with every one of them. Some of them you may speak to every day, or a couple of times a week, and that would be hard if you had to do that with four or five people.

So you need to figure out who is available, who is most helpful to me, who needs to know what, who might have a hot button or be interested in this topic or helpful in this topic. And so ideally there'll be a mix.

I think almost everybody would want to hear from a CEO at least once between board meetings or as needed, as important stuff comes up. You don't want to proscribe, "You must send me an email covering these five topics every Friday." I don't buy that. That sounds like busy work. I'd rather hear, "When something's come up, let me know."

And I actually encourage the CEOs I work with to find the most efficient communication method for you and hope that it meets the needs of the folks. So it could be I have one CEO who loves to write a quick update when he's returning from a business trip and is on an airplane. He sends it to the whole board, boom, boom, boom, here's what happened, or here's what else is happening, and gets it done.

Others are just phone people. Real-time news breaks and so they call me on their drive home from work. And typically that's at night, could be 7, 8, 9 o'clock. I've got others, Sunday nights is when they call. I'm here to serve you. Call me, email me whenever, doesn't matter. That's my obligation and commitment to my CEOs and executive teams.

And then there are going to be other folks who they just don't need that. As long as they're not surprised in board meetings, they're okay.

So the things that warrant the immediate phone call are the big, sudden changes or sudden events. But there are the topics that creep up on you, which are kind of the things forming in the CEO's mind.

And it may be something like, "You know, I don't think we're serving the right customer segment," or, "This engagement is just not where it should be," or "We are spending way too much money to acquire customers." It didn't happen suddenly, it wasn't a blinding insight; it was a creeping feeling that you start to develop more and more concern about. And it's really important to bring those up.

Those might be the kind of topics that can wait for a board meeting, but you may want to preview them ahead of time, just so that if the notion is, "Hey, this isn't working," give your board members a heads-up that we're going to really dive in on this topic because you have these concerns. I love to start board meetings with the, "Here's what is on my mind," pros and cons, or great, good, and bad, or good, bad, and ugly.

would be probably a long list. This isn’t an exhaustive one, but if there's any acquisition interest, if a key executive leaves. Ideally you know ahead of time and so a couple of board members can help you try and retain that executive, might have to counter an offer and so you need a little bit of board input on that if there's cash or equity involved. If there's a big event with a competitor, someone just got bought, someone just raised a whole ton of money, if there's a key customer that churned, if there's a big deal that didn't close.

There's also good news reasons to call. Your board loves to celebrate with you. If you close the big deal, if you ship the product, if you just won an award, but you want to balance it. I think you don't want to create just this notion of cheerleading. I'm going to send only good news and then everyone on the board is going to send the email, "Great job. Nice work."

That's all good, but it's better when it's authentic and balanced. The problems come out, the good news come out. It's not just good news Friday every Friday because then it loses its impact. You start to wonder, hey, where are the problems? I'm seeing good news Friday every week, where's bad news Monday? Because I expect that there are problems. Let's hear about those too.

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