I had coffee last week with one of my ex students. 30 months ago he raised a Series A venture round from two name brand Silicon Valley VC firms. It was early in the day, but he looked tired. “I need some advice about my board. I get along great with one of the VC’s, but the other one, Bob, is making my life miserable. Nothing I do is right in his eyes.” He looked pained as he continued. “We never had any personal chemistry, and it’s gotten so bad in the last six months, our board meetings are just hell. They consist of Bob beating me up regardless of whether the results are good or bad. I can’t tell if he’s trying to get me to quit, fire me and bring on a new CEO or is just a miserable human being.”
I have some thoughts about the problem:
- Document Bob’s behavior over the next 3 Board Meetings.
- Document Bob’s assertions and suggestions in a neutral way IN THE OFFICIAL BoD MEETING MINUTES.
- In following meetings, have the previous minutes available as powerpoint slides to instantly throw up on the projector.
- Confront Bob with his agreement in previous BoD meeting about future goals. This prevents Bob from “moving the goal posts” about what is acceptable company performance.
- When Bob offers a criticism avoid addressing the criticism, but require that Bob articulate why the issue raised is an important issue.
- Agendize the meeting with allocated time for each discussion item. Timebox Bob’s ability to dominate the meeting. Require that any item that goes over time be deferred for further discussion until the meeting’s end.
- Put controversial items at the end of the meeting. This avoids having the energy of the meeting be sapped by Bob’s negativity. Near the end of meetings, people want to leave and get on to their next appointment. The other directors are likely to excuse themselves leaving just Bob and the founder. This denies Bob an audience.
- Schedule other meetings (preferably customer meetings) just after the BoD meeting so the founder has a graceful way to insist that the BoD meeting must end.
- Privately, confront Bob about what he hopes to accomplish through his objections. If he can’t articulate a positive result if his “advice” is followed he can be diminished. Bob may have a valid issue that Bob is raising in a poor manner.
- Reach out to Bob before the meeting and manage him privately and get him on board without the public confrontation at the actual meeting.
My hope is that this would turn a negative, destructive Board Member into a more positive contributor. Thoughts?