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How to read between the lines of a board presentation
When I start working with an exec team, I always ask them to walk me through their last few board presentations. Besides being a fast way to understand what a team is focused on, board decks are often peppered with clues to the issues holding back the growth of a company.
These are some of the common ones:
A narrative that changes between decks — shows that the exec team is not aligned on strategy and is scrambling to re-align for the board meeting. By contrast, a good sign of alignment is when you see consistent language used not only from deck to deck but from department leader to department leader across the exec team.
A high ratio of words to numbers — shows that there are still too many ideas in play and no clear framework for vetting and prioritization. Teams in this state often have one list of no-brainer tactical tweaks prioritized on short-term revenue and another list of big ideas prioritized on “long term strategic value”. By contrast, a good sign of a prioritization framework is an operating model that captures the drivers of the business with the ideas described in simple terms and lined up against each driver in descending order of value.
A high ratio of ideas to dates — shows that there is no clear planning process for breaking down ideas into specific, detailed deliverables. Teams with this issue often also have a culture that values ideas and presentation over execution and results. Planning requires going deep on a few ideas to understand them at a fundamental level, developing a vision for the solution and then mapping out a roadmap to get there in a way that enables you to learn along the way. This is only possible by saying “yes” to a small number of ideas and being prepared to say “no” to everything else.
A large number of slides — shows that too much time is spent scrambling on board prep because the team team is not aligned on execution. The larger the number of slides, the further apart the team usually is, especially when you look at the groups that are actually doing the work in the company. By contrast, a few slides, with simple language and an emphasis on charts and visuals shows that the team is focused on doing a few things, has done the work to understand them and is measuring success in the right way.
A high percentage of target dates landing on the 15th or 30th of the month — shows a lack of predictability in execution. Bonus points if the 15th or 30th fall on a weekend :) By contrast, teams that execute predictably have a regular release cycle and an ability to reliably estimate how much work can be done in a given timeframe. They also don’t try to predict deliverables too far into the future relative to the size of the company and simply maintain a prioritized backlog for anything that has not yet gone through the planning process.
A revolving slate of one-off vanity metrics — shows that the team does not think the results are up to par, yet is not willing to confront the issue head on. Instead of spending time searching for a good story, exec teams are always better off focusing on a consistent set of metrics that tie back to revenue. Growth is never linear but the only way to reduce the variance is to stay focused on the same problem so that you get better at solving it over time.
To sum up: Strategy —> Prioritization —> Planning —> Alignment —> Execution —> Predictability —> Results.