How can you steer your organisation to success if you’re bombarded with information? A pilot would be unable to guide a plane to its destination if all they could see was flashing lights and swinging dials. But that is what a CEO has to contend with - a bombardment of information making it hard to see what matters.
Management often write everything they know, rather than everything the board needs to know. This results in lengthy, unengaging papers that take significant time to write and digest. And, perhaps most frustratingly, this drives unfocussed boardroom conversations. So, how can your board pack provide insight instead of an information overload?
Focus on the questions your board want to address
Report writers need to be clear on the specific questions that the board need answered. Structuring the report around these questions helps ensure the paper is focused on what matters and there are no critical gaps, nor reams of irrelevant information. Before your report writers put pen to paper, encourage them to sit down with their paper sponsor and agree the questions - so the paper hits the mark.
When it comes to words, less is more
Words should be used to add colour and explain what is happening underneath the data, but must be treated as a precious resource. Use them sparingly and focus on the ‘so what?’. By drawing out the implications for the business, rather than simply stating the facts, the board gets a clear understanding of the impact on the organisation. If we’re behind plan, how far behind are we? And what does this mean for our target?
Be sure to also include what management propose to do in response. Not only does this provide assurance, it gives the board confidence that mitigations are in place. And if we’re overperforming, include whether this could be replicated or dialed up to help the organisation succeed.
Think of data as a logical cascade
When creating a report, most people naturally start with the data they have available or the data that’s been requested by the board. The problem is this results in lots of data points on a page that don’t appear to hang from a structure or tell a story, leaving the reader feeling like they can’t see the wood for the trees.
Instead, go back to the questions that your report should address and provide data to answer each in turn, logically unpacking outcome measures from drivers that affect that outcome. If data isn’t answering a question on the mind of the reader, then it shouldn’t be in the pack.
And don’t try to answer multiple questions in a single chart or table. Make it easy for your messages to jump off the page by using colour, comparators and simple visualisations to bring the data to life. This will transform your reader’s speed of understanding. And by communicating complex problems effectively, their confidence in you will grow.
Cockpits have been meticulously designed to allow a pilot to instantly read the situation and act accordingly. A board pack should do the same for a CEO. Make sure your board pack sets you up to succeed by providing you with high quality, insightful information.