As part of our research for our latest report, The ExCo’s Guide to Shorter Papers, we spoke with Rachel Turk — group head of strategy at Beazley, and board member of the Lloyd’s Market Association. Below are snippets of the conversation that we couldn’t fit in the original report but were just too good not to share.
How do lengthy board papers impact the atmosphere in the boardroom?
There is no doubt that the mood of the meeting sours when the board gets a pack that’s too long. The board doesn’t know what to do with all that information. The NEDs get frustrated. And then you might get dreaded us/them divide between the executive directors and the NEDs because there’s this disparity of understanding. This is especially true when the paper isn’t clear about what it is you want from the board.
On that point, where a decision is needed from the board, I tell the paper writers at Beazley to think of writing board papers as baking a cake.
If you bring the board a fully baked cake and no opportunity to determine what temperature at which the cake should be baked, there will be more back and forth, frustration at being presented with what looks like a fait accompli, and more questions of: “Well, what do you need from me?” The board want you to bring together the ingredients for their decision and discussion, and they’ll do the final baking.
“Think of writing board papers as baking a cake ... the board want you to bring together the ingredients for their decision and discussion, and they’ll do the final baking.”
How do these bloated board papers and tense meetings impact the rest of the organisation?
Unfortunately, if you present the board with a bloated paper, the conversations surrounding your paper will seldom work in your favour. If you’re hoping for a decision to be made, you likely won’t get the outcome you wanted, because the board conversation can easily veer off into areas that you weren’t expecting or prepared for.
Or there will be more back and forth because directors will be seeking clarity on the decision that needs to be made. Either way, the decision-making process is negatively impacted. On the other hand, if you present the board with something pithy, where the information is signposted, you’re setting yourself up for a positive, non-combative conversation in the boardroom.
Everybody understands the paper, they’re not guessing based on limited knowledge, they are better equipped to make an informed decision, and the organisation can move forward with momentum.
“Unfortunately, if you present the board with a bloated paper, the conversations surrounding your paper will seldom work in your favour.”
What can the ExCo do to keep papers punchy and impactful?
It’s all about the briefing process. Paper writers don’t see their own paper as part of a larger board pack, but the ExCo will, so its members need to educate authors on the context of this paper, and what’s already being covered elsewhere in the pack. Otherwise, the paper writer will invariably end up duplicating information.
I also recommend structuring the brief using a question-and-answer format and outlining which questions the paper needs to answer. This allows the report writer to be structured in their thinking, and break their thoughts down into bite-sized chunks.
Read more about Board Intelligence’s “Question Driven Insight” approach to report writing.
If the ExCo invests the time upfront to think about what they want in the paper, the meetings will be shorter and more effective, the boardroom dynamic will be more positive, and both things will only serve to benefit the rest of the organisation.
If you like the sound of producing shorter, sharper papers, download The ExCo’s Guide to Shorter Papers, and learn how to get started within your organisation.