The board pack is the chief stimulus for the conversation in the boardroom. So if you feel your board conversation isn’t as focused or productive as it could be, the problem might lie with your board papers.
What is a board pack?
Board packs contain the documents, reports, and information that boards use to prepare for their upcoming board meetings. It tells them everything they need to know about the organisation’s health and provides details on any updates since the last meeting. A good board pack is a critical contributor to the organisation’s healthy governance and serves a key role in keeping board members informed and engaged whilst also ensuring executive teams are accountable.
Historically, organisations used printed board packs. In recent years, however, increasingly more organisations are looking to leverage the benefits of board portals to improve the security of sensitive information and enhance collaboration between board members.
What makes an effective board pack?
When reviewing the quality of a pack, we consider four key areas:
1. Scope — are there any blindspots in your board pack?
Boards exist to steer and to supervise the business. The board pack should support directors to fulfil these duties, but all too often board packs are backward looking and focused almost exclusively on the financials, with rarely any insight into external developments. For example, when did your board last receive an update on peer innovation? Similarly, there might be blindspots within individual papers — for instance, papers which only focus on the preferred option rather than assessing alternatives.
2. Accessibility — how easily can the board access the information they need?
Given that board members are typically extremely busy people, it is vital that they all have enough time to read and digest the information they receive. To ensure this, board portals are indispensable as they allow directors to access their board packs as soon as they are published and can seamlessly grant them access to the latest information when a pack is updated. They also allow board members to access their board materials at any time, wherever they are, regardless of whether they are online or offline.
3. Style — is your board pack easy to read and digest?
George Bernard Shaw once said, “the single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Board packs need to be easy to read and digest, to help the reader retain the key messages and add value in the board meeting. The best board papers are no more than 5-pages-long, and have a logical and visible structure that clearly draws out the “So what?” and the action proposed by management.
Ensuring that board papers are consistently written this way is a challenge, especially in large organisations where more people are involved in producing reports. Consider using tools that drive and embed best practice at scale in order to upskill your authors and give your board effective papers.
4. Efficiency — are your board papers quick and easy to prepare?
Board members have limited time to read papers; management have limited time to prepare papers. A clear brief, a consistent format and templates with prompts and guidance for the writer enable an efficient reporting process. The result is a paper that answers the questions on the board’s mind and helps the writer focus on what really matters.
5. Expertise — does your board pack include contributions from experts?
Insightful contributions from subject experts are a key component of any effective board pack. Ensure that the people who create your board pack know to present information as clearly as possible so that board members, who are not in the business day-to-day, are able to easily digest the papers. Also, it’s vital that you plan ahead when setting deadlines for paper submissions; this means that there is enough time to review the pack’s content and distribute it to board members in good time before the meeting.
6. Impact — does your board pack stimulate valuable conversations?
Ultimately, the proof is in the pudding. The board pack is the stimulus for the boardroom conversation — which ought to be a focussed and productive discussion. If you find that time is used poorly, that you’re not getting to the heart of the matter, that decisions cannot be made efficiently, then it’s worth reflecting on how well your papers really support your board.
Choosing a board portal that makes your board packs all of these things and more.
A great board pack is useless if it gets lost in the post or left on a train, so in order to ensure that board members have access to the most up-to-date information it is vital that you are able to choose the right board portal. To ensure you make the right choice for your organisation, check our complete guide to board portals for more details.