Regardless of company size and type, one of the most challenging responsibilities of a CFO is successfully working with a board of directors. With so many ongoing disputes and personality clashes, there are, inevitably, many problems encountered. So, what steps can be taken to nurture the best internal relationships? In November The NYC CFO Leadership Council addressed this question with a presentation on Inside And Outside The Boardroom: Managing And Working With Boards. This program focused on generating effective communication, setting realistic expectations, and balancing competing interests.

Our speakers were:

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Their tips and advice included:

Board Cohesion Is Key

As our panelists agreed, a non-cohesive board can be the demise of a company. To achieve this type of working relationship, all members must not only be knowledgeable about the strategies of the organization and well-versed in the industry, but they must also have innovative “out of the box” ideas. And, surprisingly, industry experience isn’t always a necessity. More important, individuals who have vast knowledge about the workings of a successful board are the ones who contribute the most valuable input.    

Maintain Trusting Relationships

To develop strong relationships and credibility with your board you must be able to deliver information, both positive and negative, in a clear, concise manner. Here’s some advice from our panelists:

  • Focus on relevant information, trends, issues, and solutions and don’t get sidetracked with lengthy slide presentations.
  • Be prepared to back up estimates and valuations with solid supporting data.
  • Always stay focused on key issues, ensuring that they are addressed in a timely manner.
  • Keep in close contact with your audit committee to discuss compliance, IT, governance, and information security.

Think Beyond Quarterly Reviews: Arrange Regular Meetings

In addition to full business reviews every quarter, it is important to schedule interim communication to discuss company strategies, goals, compensation metrics, and, if applicable, M & A opportunities. Frequency of meetings depends upon organizational size and nature. Public company boards have very extensive disclosure requirements and require more formal, strategic planning sessions while private company boards are less rigid and have fewer pressures. From a general standpoint, our panelists recommended that small, fast changing, and early stage companies should meet on a monthly basis, especially when investors are involved, whereas it is sufficient for larger, established companies to communicate less frequently.

Regular Board Interaction Is Crucial

One of the pending questions addressed was: How involved should a CFO be with the board? Here are some opinions from our panelists:

  • Maintain strong personal connections with all board members, especially in the face of crisis.
  • Focus largely on risk management, with less emphasis on systems and processes.
  • Continuously monitor board performance, in partnership with your CEO.
  • Ensure that all board members understand the company financials and have the right diversity and skill sets to stay ahead of key issues that could be raised by activist investors.
  • Always nurture a positive relationship with your CEO, which will, ultimately, promote candor, transparency, and trust among your board members.

For more expert advice, take a look at The Future of Finance Blog, written by one of our members, John O’Rourke, Vice President of Product Marketing at Host Analytics.

If you would like further details about our upcoming program topics in New York, we encourage you to preview our event listings. And, don’t miss out on the New York chapter’s first speaker program of the year on February 10, Managing High Growth. Space is filling fast, so register today.

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