Feb 20, 2024 Nurole logo
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Networking Discussion: How can I be more impactful in board meetings?

These are our key-takeaways from our networking discussion around how you can be more impactful in the boardroom.

Each month, we host an event like this in the Nurole Board Community, our new level of paid membership designed to help you develop your board portfolio.

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Board members often express a sense of frustration around not being listened to in board meetings. Often, the points they raise manifest further down the line, leaving them feeling vindicated and frustrated. This situation is reminiscent of Cassandra, the Trojan princess both gifted with prophecy and yet cursed so that no one believed her.

How can you overcome this problem to make sure that your views impact decisions when it matters, rather than merely being recognised after the event?

1. Build relationships

Your ability to influence depends on the strength of your relationships with your board colleagues. As someone wrote in the chat, “Remember it’s all about people”.

  1. Get to know your colleagues well on a personal level outside the meetings. Working outside of the board can be very productive - asking softer questions where issues may initially be highly sensitive. NEDs and executives can be intimidated by strong board characters but respond better to individual chats.
  2. Give others the opportunity to say where they’re coming from. People often find this easy one-to-one, and in an informal setting. Build trust with colleagues beyond the boardroom. It can also help to develop a two-way relationship of trust with execs or managers who aren’t on the board.

2. Reflect on your communication style

Understand how your audience likes to receive information, don’t assume. Translate your thoughts in the language of others. Use an influencing style that works well with them.

  1. Think about where other members may be coming from. What are their perspectives, motivations, and arguments? Think also about their need to feel heard.
  2. Remember the laws of effective communication (read the room, storytelling, emotional intelligence, showing your emotional commitment).
  3. Be sensitive to how you convey your message if you think others may feel criticised. Find ways to allow people to save face.
  4. Consider reframing your objections with the idea of ‘it’s not no, but how do we get to yes - convince me on these points’

3. Use evidence

It’s important to appeal to the data in an impartial, empirical way, which hopefully privileges the rational part of the brain over the emotional.

  1. Try to root the thing you want to influence in your own experience (especially executive experience) and/or in the data - to bring credibility.
  2. Keep it professional, depersonalised, logical and factual. Use neutral language - avoid creating any feeling of blame, and encourage people to step back from emotion and momentum to focus on the data or evidence.
  3. When using evidence, ask questions and boil it down into fact-based insights.
  4. If the right data isn’t available, think about how to obtain it. We have spoken to members who have commissioned independent reports to provide facts that challenged the executive view.

4. Be bold and persistent

Board roles can be lonely at the best of times, even more so when trying to persuade others of a view that isn’t widely shared. 

  1. Remind yourself why you are on the board and your motivations for success. You were brought on to contribute and challenge using your specific experiences.
  2. Appreciate that changes take time and trust, it is hard to rush big decisions through without iterating.
  3. If you fail to influence on an important matter, don’t give up - as the situation evolves and new facts emerge, go back for reconsideration. And make sure your opinion has been noted. Sometimes it can help to have evidence that “I told you so!”

5. Prepare in advance

As well as reflecting on your own argument to make it more thorough, it’s helpful to test it on others so they have time to reflect on it themselves.  

  1. Come fully prepared with questions, evidence, proposals - anything you might need to persuade others to your view.
  2. Before a decision-making meeting, think about lobbying and identifying allies beforehand who will support your view and help you to influence.
  3. Flag issues early, ahead of the meeting. Get attendees on board with new ideas in advance of the meeting so they aren’t hearing about it for the first time.

6. Foster an inclusive culture

Chairs can contribute to an overall board environment that makes it more conducive for views to be shared and heard. Building a healthy dynamic in the boardroom requires conscious attention and focus.

  1. The Chair has a key role in creating the climate for discussion. Encourage all board members to state their opinions, to avoid “going along” with strong views at the table. Use good judgement in allowing discussions to flow without going off-track.
  2. Work on the culture of the board and create the space to have challenging conversations without it becoming personal. This can include outside board meeting time (e.g. board dinners) or delegating to committees where it might be easier to resolve differences with more discussion time and fewer participants.
  3. Make sure objections are recorded in writing, especially around emerging risks.
  4. Ensure decision making follows a process so that it is not overly personalised.

7. Prioritise

Pick your battles carefully and choose which hills to die on. By focusing on the most important ones, you don’t waste your firepower on minor issues, so that when a big issue is up for discussion you are listened to and taken more seriously.

8. Final reflections

  1. You have to have something at stake to be effective - ‘no interest, no conflict’.
  2. No one gets it right all the time. Learn from times when you failed to persuade - they will teach you much more than success ever will.
  3. Sometimes the right thing to do is to ‘disagree but commit’.
  4. However, know when to leave a board if it is not working out. Remember, your personal reputation and liability are at stake.

To attend our next networking event, sign-up free to the Nurole Board Community.

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