Friday, February 24, 2012

Running an effective board meeting

For every board meeting we’ve attended that was productive, inspiring, and energizing, we’ve all been in another that was stressful, fruitless, or just a plain old waste of time.

How do you make sure your meetings don’t end up falling into those latter categories? A little bit of common sense along with willingness to work through difficult challenges can make sure your board stays connected, and walks out of meetings feeling good about the direction of your organization.


Most of us understand that a clear meeting agenda and packet should be sent to members a minimum of three days in advance, with the expectation that the recipient will arrive having read through all documents. So what else can you do to be prepared?

  • Streamline your presentation: Not everything in the packet needs to be in your deck. Your board members have likely read through it all, and have come with questions. Take slides out and use that time to allow for discussion.
  • Use graphs when possible: Some information will be in spreadsheet form, but many of your members are visual learners. Keep them engaged by presenting information accordingly.
  • Anticipate conflict: If you have some items that you know will cause some tension with certain members, reach out to them ahead of time. Let them know what they can expect, and ask them to hear out other opinions before shooting down an idea.

During the meeting

More often than not, board meetings assemble a group of very talented individuals with a great deal of experience from which you can benefit. Make sure to make the most of this opportunity, maximizing productive discussion time. What it should not be is an “update”, so don’t get too caught up in minutes or financials. Go deep on only one or two topics, and have in mind some desired outcomes to work toward.

  • No devices allowed: Enforce a policy of no Blackberries, iPhones, iPads, or other devices that will distract. This might not be popular, so allow for breaks to demonstrate your respect for what they do outside the boardroom.
  • Give everyone a chance to speak: It’s not unusual for only a couple voices to dominate conversation, so the Chairperson should make sure to ask everyone in the room to weigh in. You want to make sure all viewpoints and potential solutions are explored.
  • Encourage healthy debate: As long as discussion is productive and respectful, there’s nothing wrong with conflict. Make sure the conversation remains focused on the mission of the organization, and doesn’t move into the realm of personal attacks or agendas. Having a passionate board is better than one that’s apathetic.


If the meeting has gone well, you’ll leave with some decisions made and clear direction moving forward. You won’t always have a consensus, but hopefully there was agreement. How do you keep the momentum going?

  • Recap immediately: send the members unofficial notes as soon as possible while it’s still fresh in their memories, and they are feeling invigorated, ready to act.
  • Make action items clear: Be sure everyone understands their roles and any tasks for individuals or committees. Include a detailed recommended timeline.
  • Invite feedback: Once board members have left the room and had a chance to digest things, ask them on an individual basis if they see any room for improvements or efficiencies.

Of course, it all starts with assembling a board of directors that is thoughtful, respectful, and committed to the mission of your organization. But once that’s in place, you want to take advantage of the little time you have together. Do you have any additional considerations from your experience?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Educating from within: the value of an employee peer mentorship program

The successful growth of any company depends on the ability of team members to grow. While outside training is a great way for employees to build upon their skills, often times it’s the people in the next cube who teach each other the most.

But in a competitive job market, expertise isn’t just going to rub off. After all, your employees were hired based on their particular skill set, and they might be possessive of their knowledge base. But by initiating a mentorship program, you can give all of your employees the incentive to grow together.

Find your mentors

Mentorship is an instinctive behavior to some. They enthusiastically share their tips and tricks with others. Even though educating the team is not part of their job description, they are constantly sharing new information and looking for ways to do things better. If several of your team members come to mind when you read this, these are great candidates for your mentorship leaders. A general “call for mentors” email can reveal even more.

Create your program

Approach the design your mentorship program as you would any other valuable project. Decide on a budget and how much time your company can afford to spend a week on mentorship efforts. Remember that the cost of outside training can be very expensive, while this is free for the most part. Make mentoring a scheduled “must” with your resource department. In addition, create a communication plan, training meetings, and a program kickoff to fuel interest. A nice gesture might be to offer incentives for the mentors like extra time off or factor it in to their next pay increase.

Measure success

Once you have decided on the plan of operation for your mentorship program, put some measurable goals in place. Track the career growth as well as retention rate among program participants. Is there a noticeable change in the cooperation level of your company?

In addition to improving the knowledge-share among your team, implementing a mentorship program is a great way to demonstrate your loyalty to the group. By nurturing their personal success, you can foster company-wide success.

Friday, February 17, 2012

TEC EVENT: The Profitability Puzzle: Business Culture, Planning, and People

Interested in attending? Please contact Michele Bernstein at, or 262/821-3340


Join Jim Lindell for an interactive session in which he discusses key pieces in the jigsaw puzzle of profitability. In practical terms he will demonstrate easy to use concepts and tools that are often overlooked and underappreciated. He will discuss:

•            The role of Business Culture

•            The significance of Business and Strategic Planning and how it creates, identifies and sustains profitability

•            How to objectively measure staff when recruiting, training and managing your business


James T. Lindell is President of Thorsten Consulting Group, Inc., a Wisconsin based provider of Strategic & Financial Consulting, Professional Speaking, Training, and Executive Coaching.

Jim has an extensive background in senior management including: Chief Financial Officer of Coolidge Glass Company, Inc., Waukesha, Wisconsin, Chief Financial Officer for Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, Inc., and Corporate Asst. Controller for Wispak Foods, Butler, Wisconsin. Jim has worked with a variety of industries including: manufacturing, health care, not for profit, distribution and food processing. He has been involved in more than 40 M&A projects. In addition, Jim is a TEC Chairman for 2 groups in Wisconsin. TEC is an international organization of CEO’s.

Jim is a Certified Public Accountant with public accounting experience for both local and regional accounting firms. He has a BS in Accounting from the University of Wisconsin - Platteville and an MBA in Finance from the University of Wisconsin - Whitewater. He is a TEC Chairman (The Executive Committee) and member of: Financial Executives Institute (FEI), Association for Corporate Growth (ACG), the American Institute of CPA's and the Wisconsin Institute of CPA's. Mr. Lindell is a Faculty Member of the American Management Association (AMA), the American Institute of CPA’s (AICPA) and the Center for Professional Education (CPE).

Jim has authored the “Survival Kit for Small Business Executives” and was a contributing author on “The Fast Close – Revolutionizing Accounting”.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Turning a recent failure into success

Your team worked on a big presentation for weeks, putting in long hours and going above and beyond anything you could have hoped. They did the research, made some great insights, and came up with a killer strategy. On the big day, you all left the client presentation barley able to contain some hi-fives. So imagine the disappointment when the project was awarded to someone else. How could this have happened? And more importantly, how can your team recover their confidence without becoming jaded? This is where your leadership skills can really inspire.

Remind them that failure is part of success
If you can’t celebrate the victory, at least celebrate the opportunity. Sometimes just being in the running is a privilege in itself, which should not be overlooked. Boost morale by celebrating the outstanding effort of your staff. The smaller accomplishments made along the way are each victories in themselves. You cannot highlight these enough.
Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping-stones to success. ~Dale Carnegie

Point out the lessons learned through failure
Whatever type of project you were shooting for, chances are your team has learned a lot through the process. Research what kinds of improvements can be made in the future, and if possible, what your competition may have done differently to win them the job. Be careful not to single out any one person or department, and avoid blame altogether. Document your lessons learned, and arm your team with that intelligence for the next challenge.
It's fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure. ~Bill Gates

Present them with a new and exciting goal
It can be hard to revive a weary team after a major setback. Rather than spending too much time dwelling on the past, steer your team’s vision towards the future. Presenting a new goal will instill them with the confidence to succeed, and is the best way to remind them of your faith in their abilities.
Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently. ~Henry Ford

It’s a cliché, but winning really isn’t everything. We would not recognize our victories without a little defeat – and after all, it’s what we all signed up for. A failure now can be instrumental in winning later.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Convey confidence in an uncertain economic climate

You can learn a lot about your employees by studying how they react to stressful situations. No doubt, in this economic climate, they are learning a lot about you, too. Marketwatch recently named Amazon’s Jeff Bezos as their CEO of the Year for 2011, “for his imagination, his long-term focus and his sheer optimism in the face of the most uncertain of economic times.”

Your behavior in a crisis defines your ability to lead. So what messages are you sending your team? Here are a few reminders help you really lead by example.

Keep Calm
Remember, you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of anyone else. When you feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders, it’s very easy to get run down. Keep your health in check, both physically and emotionally, and schedule stress-relieving activities as you would any other appointment. In addition to helping you perform your duties better, a well-rested and positive leader puts everyone at ease.

Maintain balance
We all know the importance of keeping the channels of communication open. But during an economic downturn, it can be hard to be honest with your teams without inciting panic. Keep your reporting truthful enough to encourage ownness without placing blame. Worry is a distraction that can spread like wildfire. Do your best to keep it contained and extinguished through mindful communication.

Be a support, find support
When your team faces a challenge, you start to get to know everyone’s strengths a little better. Use this as an opportunity to lead. Offer training to those who demonstrate skills in areas your organization could use. Be visible around the office on a daily basis and accessible to anyone who needs help. Just as you show support, remember that your team is a good source of support. Tap into the expertise around you and seek out their suggestions.

Perhaps more than any other time in our lives, the past five years have been a testing ground for CEOs. Setting the tone through confident decision-making and adopting a calm demeanor can keep the whole company functioning at it’s best.

What are you doing to instill calm and confidence around the office?