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Leave the room to get feedback from your board

I’ve been running monthly board meetings for Server Density since 2015 which was when we brought on an institutional investor. My board now comprises of the VC partner (Barnaby Terry), my first angel investor (Qamar Aziz) and an independent (Oren Michels).

Although it’s well established that employees should have regular performance reviews, this isn’t widely heard of when it comes to evaluating the CEO performance. In much larger businesses, compensation can be linked to stock price or other KPIs, but at a startup or small business it can be harder. Feedback often needs to be qualitative as well as quantitative.

You might implement a 360 degree feedback process within the management team but a formal opportunity for feedback from the board to the CEO is rare. This might only surface through scrutiny of specific board agenda items, difficult questions or ultimately being fired!

With this in mind, an idea I have been using for some time is a specific section of the board meeting where I leave the room and allow the remainder of the board to discuss without me present. This is a good opportunity for them to discuss the meeting topics themselves but I specifically frame it around “Feedback to the CEO”. This lasts 10-15 minutes, after which I’m called back in.

Despite the board members not being in the day-to-day so less able to provide specific operational direction, I have found the feedback very useful. It has allowed me to direct my thinking on difficult topics, understand how I might change my approach to problems and reconsider where I should be spending my time.

Positive feedback is just as useful as negative. I know many CEOs suffer from imposter syndrome so being given praise is valuable as well. You should try and bring on board members who have been CEOs themselves, so they understand the difficulties. Feedback is so much more valuable when it is from someone who can relate to the experience.

If you’re not getting feedback from your board, you’re missing out on a big part of why they’re supposed to be there.

The most important piece of advice I’ve learned on structuring board meetings is that they should be discussions without fear of conflict. Just using the meeting as a status update is a waste of everyone’s time and incredibly boring.

Further reading on running effective board meetings I’ve found helpful: