It’s hard to overstate how much the world of work has been transformed in the past few years — and yet how little board packs have changed for the better over the same period, according to the latest data.
In 2018, we launched a joint effort with the Chartered Governance Institute UK & Ireland to help organisations score their board packs. Since the board pack contains a company’s most confidential information, objectively benchmarking it against peers is inherently difficult, so the goal was to lift the lid and help boards, governance professionals, and management teams understand how they fared.
The initiative included two self-survey tools:
- A board pack assessment tool to identify the strengths and weaknesses of both your board pack (across its style, scope, and content) and board reporting cycle.
- A board reporting calculator to work out the hidden costs of your full board reporting process, based on the number of directors and meetings, length of pack, and distribution method.
What do the data tell us about the state of board reporting?
Over 1,000 directors, C-suite executives, and governance professionals from nearly 700 organisations across sectors have filled in these survey tools since their launch. And the results are damning: over the past five years, not only have board packs been getting longer, but the level of insight they bring to bear has been declining too.
Not even half of directors get value from their board papers
Let’s start with the good news: 2022, where more boards and governance professionals found their papers to be a hindrance to the board conversation (30%) than a help (28%), seems to have been the low point in board reporting, and 2023 shows a marked improvement.
The bad news? Still less than half (48%) of board papers add value in the eyes of their readers, with the rest considered as either having no impact (42%) or being an obstacle (10%).
Overall, 63% of board members and governance professionals continue to score their board packs as “Weak” or “Poor” (a slight improvement to the 2018–2022 average of 70%).
Our board papers…
And just over half of directors think their management team spends enough time on reporting
To make matters worse, the board members and governance professionals who believe that their management team spend enough time writing their board papers are just a slim majority (57%) — despite board packs increasing in length overall.
- The average board pack is now 226-pages-long (up 30% since 2019, and consistent with our earlier research with Cambridge Judge Business School that found the median length at around 200 pages). Only 40% of board packs remain below the 100-page mark.
- A quarter of board members and governance professionals (24%) think the time taken by management for board reporting is insufficient, with another 19% being unsure.
The time taken by management for board reporting is…
What do bad board packs reveal about the organisations producing them?
Beyond the waste of executives spending days writing reports that directors find unhelpful, this matters because the board pack is the canary in the coal mine. A poor board pack is almost always symptomatic of a lack of critical thinking amongst management more widely, a lack of clear focus and alignment around what matters most, and patchy communication between management and the layers below.
And what does this lead to? It makes boards slow to spot risks and opportunities within the business, slow to make decisions, and slow to execute changes in strategy and direction. And at times of such rapid change and transformation, that’s a risky place to be.
Having sat in on hundreds of board meetings over the years, we’ve seen first-hand how the quality of a board pack is a key determinant of the quality of the board discussion and the board meeting itself. Done well, it can set the board up to succeed, enabling it to have strategic, forward-looking conversations about the things — and the various stakeholders — that really matter.
Where do board packs go wrong?
So, what’s going wrong in the board reporting process? It’s not that report authors are lazy and don’t write enough; it’s that they’re unequipped for the job and so write the wrong way about the wrong things.
Case in point, looking at data covering 2020 throughout 2023:
- 54% of board members and governance professionals feel that the key messages in their board papers are like finding a needle in the haystack.
- 62% think that the management information they’re given is too operational and not strategic enough.
- 54% find their board reports are too introspective.
- And 38% say they don’t even accurately reflect their organisations’ priorities.
The key messages in our board packs…
How do you fix poorly written board packs?
But just because the stats are ugly, doesn’t mean this downward trend has to continue. The best board packs follow the tenets of the Question Driven Insight (QDI) principle — a method that ensures that each paper within it is built on robust and critical thinking, is communicated effectively, and focuses on what matters.
Lucia — our AI-powered thinking and writing platform brings that QDI principle to life, equipping authors with the tools and real-time feedback they need to craft papers that get to the heart of what matters. It acts as a skilled editor and critical friend, helping even novice writers strike the balance between information and insight; past performance and future outlook; what’s gone well and what hasn’t. And it makes it easy to create a high-quality executive summary that showcases the key points up front.
- If you’re curious to know how your board pack stacks up, fill in the board pack assessment tool for yourself.
- If you know that improvements are needed but aren’t sure where to start, take a look at our guide to best-practice executive summaries as well as our “How to write a great…” video series.
- And if you’re ready to transform your reporting at scale, book your demo of Lucia, our management reporting platform that helps you write brilliantly clever reports that spur your business to action: