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6 board pack mistakes you don’t want to make

Dimitriya Paunova

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Your board pack has the potential to be a powerful document.

Cutting through the detail of your business to give your directors an incisive insight into current performance, strategy and challenges.

Too often, though, this insight is lost – subsumed by papers that are unwieldy, backward-looking or unnecessarily bloated.

Without discipline and a user-friendly delivery mechanism, board packs quickly go from invaluable business tool to irrelevant and unhelpful. Here we look at six mistakes to avoid – and how to correct them.

  1. Missing the ‘so what’

Often data-heavy, board packs can fall down when it comes to extracting the insight from that data.

Members don’t have time to trawl through reams of information. They need to cut to the key elements. The pack needs to not just share the data, but make it clear what it means to the business.

Make sure your papers contain the insight as well as the information. And make them easy to read and navigate, so the important findings are easy to spot. Don’t make your directors’ lives any harder than they have to be.

  1. Too long

On a related note, many board packs are far too long. Sometimes, excessive amounts of data are included as a replacement for the insight we’ve talked about above. Sometimes there’s a tendency to throw everything in, in case it’s useful.

But this makes it hard for directors to pick out the information you really want them to see. Less is more – focus on the critical points and make it easier to identify the key content.  

  1. Not detailed enough

Conversely, some packs don’t have enough detail – or, more often, don’t have enough of the right detail. If papers include details of the strategic discussion they represent – rather than just the conclusions of those discussions – members can see what solutions have already been discussed and rejected. This can save time in going over old ground, debating potential actions that have already been dismissed.

Include succinct information on the reasons for proposed approaches, where necessary, and you can avoid duplicatory debate.

  1. The pack looks backwards, not forwards

Board packs need to report on what’s happened – that’s a given. But by focusing only on what’s taken place, they miss crucial information on the future.

Planning is just an important as reporting. Future threats and opportunities need to be identified and acted on.

Make sure your papers are a good mix of the necessary reporting and a bit of future-gazing. Using past data to predict and prepare for the future is essential. Make sure your packs clearly show future direction and the decisions that need to be made.

  1. No clear signposting

Board packs should be simple to navigate. An executive summary for each paper helps to explain its purpose, content and any action required.

Tabs or other markers should be used to show where each paper starts, with a clear contents page. Directors often sit on numerous boards or committees, and have limited time to absorb pre-meeting notes. Making it straightforward for them to find their way around papers makes their life easier.

  1. Not presented in the way directors want

Do you know how your members prefer to receive information? If not, ask them. Chances are, some will have a strong preference for hard copy papers, while others would rather read them online.

Offering a choice in terms of the way your meeting packs are delivered will ensure you’re engaging with directors in the way they want.

Online board portals can offer a digital solution – but make sure they give members choices over the way they access papers. Some only provide online access, but members may prefer to read papers offline, as pdfs – particularly if they use travelling time to catch up on meeting preparation.

Few boards will want to go 100% paperless. Does the portal offer you the option of delivering papers in hard copy? If you can accommodate the needs of all your directors, you will maximise engagement.

Board packs are an essential part of business life. They can also be costly and time-consuming to produce. And if the delivery is off-key, you potentially waste the very expensive time of your directors. Make sure your strategy hits the mark.

You can read more about how a portal-based approach can help you avoid some of the common board pack mistakes. Download our free ‘Board portal FAQs’ to find answers to some of the most frequently-asked questions.

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