10 Tips for better board papers
Board papers contain important information relating to the agenda and decisions that need to be made during board meetings. These key points can be both general or more specific. Board papers, much like minutes, are utilised as a form of record keeping.
At the end of the day, board papers need to be able to improve and strongly influence the board's efficiency. It needs to be easily read and understood. It needs to create a good framework so as to focus the meeting.
The CEO typically has to assemble the board papers whilst in close consultation with the chairperson. However, as the chairperson must direct the meetings, ensuring efficiency and straightforwardness, they should overlook the papers and should reflect similarly.
The quality of the board paper should be a collaboration between the CEO and the Chair and should reflect their trust and confidence in each other. A Chair should trust that the CEO can identify and prioritise relevant topics for the board, whilst the CEO should be open to discussing any issues that may arise during the preparation phase. During the preparation of the papers, both parties must maintain a fluent dialogue about the papers and be open and honest about areas of improvement.
Tip 1 – Focusing on the tone
The tone is important as it focuses on certain questions such as:
- Why am I writing this document
- For whom am I writing it?
- What is relevant to the reader?
- What does the Board need to know, consider or understand?
- What focus does this document have? (For information? For decision? For action?)
Board papers are published with the goal of letting the board understand the framework of the meeting. The writers of the board papers need to keep in mind to focus on governance matters and any other relevant information to the board members.
Tip 2 – Write with simple language
Overuse of jargon normally does more harm than good. It can even create the opposite effect of decreasing the value of important information and diverting attention from any crucial information. It is also important to note that each director brings a certain knowledge to the table and may or may not be familiar with any complicated or industry-specific terms used. Marketing specialists wouldn't know about niche financial terms and vice versa. Board papers aren't about impressing anyone but for directors to know plain and simply what is going on.
Tip 3 – Include only relevant information
Board meetings typically take place within a limited time. Therefore directors need to follow the agenda closely. Their aim is to present all required information, discuss choices and make adequate decisions. When preparing board papers, the goal is to keep them short, sweet and concise.
Tip 4 – Don't create another management report
Directors should not concern themselves with the operations of the organisation and therefore do not need day-to-day reports of the running of the organisation. There, however, is a fine line between operations and strategy. Governance and management need different data to perform their jobs effectively, but it’s important not to recreate the management report whilst writing Board papers.
Tip 5 – Utilise evidence to support statements
It is important to remember that readers of the board papers do not always share the same depth of knowledge as the writer. Facts and evidence can back up persuasive statements and assure the readers of the paper of the claims made.
Tip 6 – Align content and strategy
n the eyes of a board, strategy and risk are to be assessed together. Once a strategy is proposed, the project needs to be aligned, including a strategic pipeline, so as to honour the final decision.
Tip 7 – Structure content appropriately
Topics need to be presented clearly. Board meetings don't happen all that frequently and definitely don't last forever. The board needs to look at the board papers and know immediately what is going on and what needs to be said and done. Once a style is set, it should be kept for all other future documents. This includes structured layout and house style, like colours, logo and any branding).
The following format may help:
- Table of contents;
- Bullet points for crucial facts;
- The use of bold and italic to highlight key pieces of information;
- Any sources needed.
Tip 8 – Keep it simple
By keeping the board papers simple, concise and relevant to the readers, time can be saved. The information shared should be kept simple and backed up by facts and figures wherever possible. The writer should also double-check sources so as to ensure that there is accuracy and that all data provided is actually crucial. One major role of the board as well is to ensure objectivity and transparency. For that reason, risks and consequences should be explored thoroughly, and any decisions should be made from there on.
Tip 9 – Edit away
In light of keeping the board papers concise, accurate and relevant, the writer should be keen on editing them. The writer needs to ensure enough time to write the paper. They should start by adding any relevant information to do so with the Board, decisions, risks and opportunities. Then, once done, they should step back and review it at a later date so as to pick out anything irrelevant. Editing should be done until the information is to the point and as clear as possible.
Tip 10 – Peer review
There is great value in feedback from peers. Peers can help as a fresh set of eyes, especially if it is the writer's first time. Different board members would have had experience in writing a paper and would be able to give the writer some guidance for their own piece.
Do all of this with ease using BoardPro
Creating your meeting agenda has never been easier with BoardPro. Although one of the most important tasks undertaken by a board administrator, it is often the most costly and time consuming. With BoardPro, build an agenda by cloning an existing agenda, or use the best practice template. BoardPro’s signature smart tools are at your fingertips, to automate the regular tasks of confirming the minutes, and reviewing the interest register and action list.
Build agendas effortlessly
Creating an agenda in BoardPro is effortless and intuitive. What’s better is that once you’ve built your first agenda, you can clone it for the next meeting. Customise the structure of your agenda by adding as many sections and agenda items as required. Need to change the order, or add a new agenda item? Simply drag and drop your items into a new place in the agenda, and watch as they automatically re-number for you.
For each agenda item you can write a purpose, select a presenter and allocate a time allowance. You can also attach supporting documents for each agenda item, which will collate into the board pack.
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