One of the least understood and most influential tools for building strong relationships with board members is the art of the pre‐meeting. To illustrate, let’s consider an example:

The CHRO and the head of executive compensation are responsible for preparing the compensation committee chair and the other committee members for what will be discussed and potentially decided in each committee meeting. If you believe in the “no surprises” theory of management, as I do, your job is to ensure your compensation committee is well‐prepared for every meeting and that there are no surprises during the meeting.

To that end, it’s important that you meet or speak with the compensation committee chair before the meeting takes place. The agenda for this pre‐meeting usually includes a review of the committee meeting agenda, materials that need to be prepared, and a discussion of which agenda items are intended for information and discussion and which items require committee decisions and approvals.

Once the meeting materials are prepared, another pre‐meeting or discussion should take place to review the materials, answer the committee chair’s questions, and identify issues that may be particularly difficult or controversial.

Some HR leaders I know go through this process, not only with the compensation committee chair, but with each committee member prior to every committee meeting. This process takes an incredible amount of time, but not as much time as picking up the pieces following an extremely difficult and contentious compensation committee meeting where participating board members feel surprised, ignored, confused, or misinformed—or they simply don’t agree with management’s recommendations.

Pre‐meetings are essential to ensure mutual understanding of facts and assumptions, as well as clarity about where management, the board, committees, and board consultants agree and disagree. Most importantly, these pre‐meetings minimize the risk of surprises in the boardroom.

For example, it is highly undesirable and unproductive to have the CEO, CHRO, or head of executive compensation fighting with the independent compensation consultant in front of the board or compensation committee. Likewise, it is equally distasteful to have the chair and members of the compensation committee surprised by a position taken by their own consultant or by management. The “no surprises” rule should be standard operating procedure when working with the independent compensation consultant.

As HR leader for your organization, how are you employing the “Art of the Pre-Meeting” to your board meeting preparations?

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If you found this information valuable, check out my book, THREE: The Human Resources Emerging Executive, which you can preview at

Be sure also to check out the FREE eBook Black Holes and White Spaces: Reimagining the Future of Work and HR with the CHREATE Project, published through the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and available for download on Amazon. It contains 26 essays from more than 70 chief HR officers and CHREATE Project volunteers and describes tools and frameworks for leaders inside and outside the HR profession.