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.
We review hundreds of board packs each year from a broad range of industries, so we know what good looks like. And 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. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.