How to improve the quality of your board papers

Time after time, board members tell us that too much time is spent during board meetings hearing from the CEO and the CFO or having overly long discussions on small side issues, leaving too little time for strategic discussion. Focus is on the past, on reporting latest financials or on resolving immediate operational issues, at the expense of discussion about the future and about issues that really matter.

Here are a few tips to consider, both for executive teams preparing the papers and board members using them:

  • The purpose of the papers / board pack is to provide the foundation for effective discussion and decision-making. They need to be structured in a way that promotes these outcomes.
  • Start each section with a one-page Executive Summary including clear purpose (why are board members reading this), the context/big picture around the issue and what are the questions the executives would like the non-executives to answer or provide advice on.
  • Keep the sections as short as possible and ensure easy-to-read layouts and graph types that are familiar to the board, so that the materials can be fully pre-read within the limited preparation time each board member has. Consider developing a template that the board becomes accustomed to, so that preparation (and reading/analysis time) can be kept to a minimum.
  • Ensure that clear insights are stated for each piece of information presented – what do we learn from this information that will help board members to evaluate and provide guidance or make decisions?
  • If the information is not crucial for creating insights, leave it out.
  • If you know that some board members usually like to understand the detailed background of the material, insert this into an appendix and clearly state that information in appendix is not crucial to read.
  • Start the meeting with the most important issues. Leave updates and general governance for the last part of the meeting – or even better, ask everyone to approve it in advance (using the board software voting button) or if they cannot approve it, to insert questions into the material in advance of the meeting.
  • Ensure the CEO and CFO minimize the time spent presenting key financials and general business updates that will already have been read. Encourage them instead to spend their valuable time answering potential questions.
  • Ensure that most of the board pack sections at each meeting address strategic issues and are forward looking.
  • Ensure that some of the board material at each meeting provides insight into factors outside the business which might affect the company, such as competitor activity and macroeconomic trends. This helps both executives and non-executives to stay alert and not become too inward-looking.
  • As part of effective board material, regularly update the board KPI dashboard so that it enables the board to follow up on strategy implementation (non-financial milestones) in a quick and relevant way.
  • Regularly ask board members for feedback on the board material and how it can be improved. Many of them have other board experience and will be delighted to share other board’s best practices.

If you’d like to discuss how to improve your board materials, don’t hesitate to contact us here:

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