How to Build a Perfect Board Pack

January 26, 2022

January 25, 2022

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Board Reporting

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Brett Herkt

Board packs are the good foundation for effective board meetings. They help recapitulate previous meetings’ topics and recommendations, and also address what important upcoming items need discussion. And, because it is one of the most important aspects of board meetings, it is crucial that your board members receive a succinct board report. 

So, with that said, BoardPro is here to show you how to build the perfect board pack and why it is so important to do so.

Why is a concise board pack important?

With board members possessing some of the busiest and most demanding schedules within an organisation, efficient use of time is crucial. This is why a concise board pack is so important. 

The majority of organisations, two-thirds to be exact, are not satisfied with their board packs. This staggering number is far from the ideal 0%. And, it is because of these inefficiencies, that substantial amounts of money, time and effort are put into creating board reports that fall short, representing a huge waste of valuable organisational resources. 

Ultimately, boards want to receive comprehensive information presented concisely and clearly so they can make informed votes on specific issues affecting the organisation’s current and future situation and direction. Concise board reports keep the attention of board members by engaging the readers with a clear style all the while delivering helpful and actionable insight. By presenting concise board packs, it will undoubtedly lead to more efficient board meetings.

What makes a good board pack?

A good board pack should give board members a greater understanding of the upcoming board meeting and contain enough information to brief them. Good board packs stimulate fruitful discussions because they provide a clear sense of direction for the meeting – they focus on the bigger picture of the organisation rather than the day-to-day logistics and operational aspect of things. And so, it is important to summarise previous meetings in a concise manner and state what is required and needed from board members in order for the company to progress. 

How can you build a strategic board pack?

  1. The board pack supports the agenda

The agenda outlines what needs to be discussed at this meeting, and the board pack supports the agenda. The meeting documents in the board pack are read before the meeting, and provides the information that will aid board members to make decisions during the meeting.

  1. Ensure that the board pack focuses on the big picture of the organisation

The primary purpose of board meetings is to propel growth in the organisation. Therefore, board packs that provide a holistic perspective on the health of the organisation are much more valuable than one that contains irrelevant details that don’t utilise the expertise, experience and skill set of board members to the fullest potential.

By putting together a board pack that communicates the general well-being of the organisation, board members will have a much better sense of direction heading into the meeting.

Sometimes, management who are writing board papers may fall into the trap of detailing all the specifics to demonstrate their mastery of a topic, and might neglect expanding on the importance and the insight of the issues. And so by drawing conclusions from the information provided and stating why it matters to the board and how they can help moving forward, it will ensure that not only are you adopting the right macro lens when it comes to looking at the overall company performance, but it also ensures that your summaries lead to progressive action.

  1. Keeping a consistent template and tone

A organisation can craft a consistent template and tone for their management when creating reports that contribute to the board pack. When directors are reading multiple papers, and needing to switch back and forth between them, keeping consistency throughout the board pack, even when they are written by different people will help your directors to consume the information, and also to interpret the language and learnings.

  1. Include an executive summary

It is extremely helpful to include a one-page executive summary on the first page of the pack. This executive summary can cleanly recap the key points and topics of the following pack and inform the board what the main purposes of the meeting are.

A pack without a clear, concise executive summary that fails to delineate the key insights can undermine the board’s effectiveness. On the other hand, a clear executive summary can pinpoint key questions, conclusions and input sought, saving the board time on determining what information is important and needed.

Here is how you can create an executive summary that is helpful for board members. Make sure that your executive summary:

  • Offers context and links the topics to the bigger picture
  • Sets out the scope of the meeting and the key questions to focus on
  • Presents all the key points on a single page
  • Specifies the input and recommendations required from the reader
  1. Be aware of time

Since board meetings don’t happen every day, time for talking and planning for the future of the organisation is limited. Therefore, it is important that the board meetings actually focus on the most urgent matters in relation to future strategy and direction, effective improvement and growth of the organisation.

Board packs should include events that are seasonal and calendar-based.

For example, compensation reviews, budget approvals, strategic planning and performance assessments are all seasonal events. Board packs should only include such topics when they are relevant to the timing of the board meetings. If a topic is not urgent, it’s better to save it for another meeting.

  1. State a clear ask in the pack

Even if the board pack contains all the important information and states the purpose of the material and the meeting, reports without clear questions to guide the readers may not evoke clear recommendations from the board. Make sure that your board pack clearly communicates what is needed from the readers. By asking comprehensive questions, your board meeting will run much more efficiently because board members would have prepared clear and considered recommendations prior to the meeting, which ensures that the objective and purpose of the board meeting is actually addressed and fulfilled.

What mistakes must you avoid when creating a board pack?

  1. Avoid too much backward-looking information

While past information is important and helps us to learn, a board can only influence what  will happen next. Papers that put too much emphasis on the past lack a focus on how the organisation can improve and move forward typically aren’t effective. Of course, understanding past performance is important when it comes to suggesting recommendations to stimulate growth in the organisation, too much backward-looking information is not required, nor effective.

Boards also need to understand future risks and opportunities with other relevant data and information.

  1. Avoid board packs that are too long

Board members don’t have a lot of time to read board papers and prepare for board meetings. Research shows that most board members only spend a few hours reading their papers before the meeting. So if a board pack is too long, much of it goes unread.

In the board pack, only the most strategic information should be included. For example, if there is full report from a consultant on a key topic, why don’t you summarise the findings into a one-pager? Fill out the information by linking to appendixes outside of the board pack for the board members who want to read further.

This will also help your board to know exactly what the key information is that you are trying to tell them, rather than asking them to sift through and figure out what is the most important.

  1. Avoid a lack of focus in strategy

A board pack that does not offer strategic insight and conclusive considerations of options is a board pack that lacks focus. The main purpose of a board meeting is to discuss effective strategies moving forward, so if a board pack fails to enable this, then it is not fulfilling its purpose.

Strategy is a key part of any board’s mandate, and where possible, your agenda and board pack should regularly anchor back to the strategic goals of your organisation.

Conclusion

Putting together a perfect board pack is not simple, and it does take time and practice to find the sweet spot that works for your board. With this guide to constructing a perfect board pack, BoardPro aims to improve efficiency of your board meetings and encourage growth in your organisation.

How can BoardPro help?

BoardPro enables boards and leadership teams from small to large organisations to focus on what matters most by ensuring smarter meetings, decisions and actions. Priority planning and agenda management tools can drive alignment across the board and leadership teams and ensure time is spent on those issues that will make the biggest difference. Agenda builders and best practice templates guarantee key questions are answered and that writers produce sharp, clear reports and papers that get to the heart of the issue quickly.

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