Simple Meeting Mistakes Even Smart Board Make: How to Focus on What Really Matters

Hospihirestals’ boards often spend the majority of their meetings focused on what happens inside the four walls of the hospital when 40% (or more) of revenues come from outpatient or non-acute services. Or, worse, meetings are focused on completely irrelevant issues.  It’s a real blind spot.

You see, good governance can be orchestrated, to some extent. It starts with a well-structured agenda.  The truth is that the board’s only currency is the time they have during board meetings.  Board members have no individual authority: the only time the board ‘exists’ is when it meets.  This makes the stakes for board meetings much higher than the typical meeting, in my opinion.  Proper preparation is worth every bit of time it takes because these people are the boss’s bosses.

The CEO and Board chair should have a pre-meeting (or call) two or three weeks before the board meeting and go over a draft agenda.   And they shouldn’t have to start with a blank sheet of paper each month.  For instance, if the board always approves the budget in May, does the CEO evaluation in September, and its board’s self-assessment in October, then these things should be on a master calendar of board topics.  Presenting the audit to the board shouldn’t be a last minute activity every year.  Creating a calendar of issues that you know will require board attention each year is the way to go. It’s a simple tool but can help ensure recurring subjects aren’t forgotten.

Another simple thing that helps with effective meetings is to get the materials out a week in advance.  When we introduce this idea, almost every client initially tells us some variation of “that’s not possible”.  Which may or may not be true. Sometimes the timing of meetings needs to be adjusted. For instance, if it takes two weeks to get financials after the month’s close and you want those to go to the finance committee, then don’t schedule the finance committee meeting during the first week of the month.

Getting materials out a week in advance might take a direct order by the board chair and creative thinking on the part of the staff.  At one hospital, the board clerk despaired of getting packets out in advance because she couldn’t get the CFO’s report or the CEO’s update from them. But she worked behind the scenes, had the CFO’s assistant block time on his calendar specifically to write the memo, and asked the COO’s help in drafting the CEO’s update that the CEO could then just edit.

It’s important to practice this discipline of sending materials in advance because it’s a necessary foundation if you want fewer presentations and more discussion time at board meetings.  Nothing distributed in advance should be presented verbally at the meeting: That’s a waste of time and insulting to board members who took the time to read it.  Some will say their members don’t read the materials even when they are sent in advance.  Don’t fall prey to this cop-out.  Effective boards have the expectation that board members come to meetings prepared.  They can’t do that if they’re not getting the materials far enough in advance to actually review them.

Small, simple steps.  But if you’re not already following these practices, they can make a world of difference in your meeting effectiveness.  Try them out and let us know how it goes!