Ever watched that scene in the BBC 1 sitcom “Fleabag” where Fleabag’s sister, Claire, comes back from the hairdressers with a dodgy new haircut? “I look like a pencil!” she wails to Fleabag, and they march down to the salon to confront her stylist. Claire’s exasperated stylist presents them with the picture that Claire told him to use for “inspiration” when cutting her hair. Low and behold, the picture is of a model sporting a very similar hairdo.
Sure, a better hairdresser might have asked some more questions before he started snipping. But would you agree that Claire has mainly herself to blame? Had she been clearer about what exactly she wanted, she may well have escaped her stationery-inspired hairdo and left the salon with something more suitable.
Well, the same goes for when you get a disappointing report back from your writers. Sure, the report's author may have areas for improvement, and perhaps they could have come back with more clarifying questions. But can you truly say that you gave them the clearest possible brief on what they needed to include?
“The quality of your papers cannot be just the report writers’ responsibility — you need a structure that makes their success inevitable.” ~ Graham Donoghue, CEO, Sykes Cottages
The importance of briefing
Without a good briefing process, a report writer is simply guessing what needs to be included — meaning you’ll likely end up with too much of the wrong information, or not enough of the right information. Before you know it, you’re either a) time permitting, going back and forth with the paper writer, or worse, b) presenting the board with something that doesn’t meet the mark.
In other words — you look like a pencil.
So how can you provide clarity from the outset, and help report writers deliver the information that your board is looking for?
A quick guide to better briefing
We’ve worked with thousands of board members and executives to drive high-quality papers through better briefing. The first course of action we recommend is carving out time with your chair or chief of staff to outline your proposed questions for your brief. Secondly, make sure that your brief:
- Asks the paper writer to outline what it is they are asking of the board in this paper.
- Does the board need to make a decision?
- Do they need to provide input on a discussion around a decision?
- Or do they simply need to be aware of a decision that’s going to be made in the future?
- Asks questions that probe for a transparent and balanced answer, sharing both the good, the bad, and the uncertain.
- Prompts the writer to include the “so what?” surrounding this information — that is, what’s their insight?
Once you’ve submitted your brief, allow the briefing process to become a dialogue — encouraging the paper writer to come back with questions and give enough time to redraft your brief if necessary.
A definitive guide to better papers
If you want better papers back from your writers, the onus is mainly on you to deliver clarity on what it is you need from them. But that’s not to say that your paper writers can’t upskill themselves at the same time. In our latest free paper writing guide, “The Definitive Guide to Decision Papers”, we focus on how to write good proposals to the board and provide a comprehensive checklist that can improve the quality of report writing in general. Download your copy and share it with your paper writers here: