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What Are Board Papers?

If you’re unsure about the purpose of board papers, let’s start with the basics. Board papers are concise documents that provide essential information, decisions, and required actions for board meetings. They typically span a few pages and should not be confused with board minutes, which serve a different purpose.

Key Elements of Board Papers

Board papers typically include the following elements:

  • An executive summary
  • Recommendations
  • Background information and context
  • Discussion points and actions

These papers play a critical role in governance by equipping decision-makers with the necessary information and ensuring structured and effective board meetings. As board members don’t participate in day-to-day business activities, they rely on the information presented in board reports to make informed decisions.

Without the right information and presentation, there is a risk of oversights and misunderstandings that can have cascading effects on the entire organization. So, as someone responsible for preparing board documents, how can you ensure that you consistently write effective board papers? Let’s explore some key steps.

11 Steps To Writing Effective Board Papers Every Time

Why Is It Important to Write Board Papers Effectively?

The board of directors plays a crucial role in steering the business in the right direction and ensuring the execution of appropriate activities. To fulfill this role, they must be aware of any obstacles that could impede business progress.

As board meetings often occur at regular intervals, well-prepared board papers are essential for equipping directors with the information they need to make effective and timely decisions. Unfortunately, board papers are often overwhelming in terms of volume and information, making it challenging for board members to make informed decisions.

11 Steps to Writing Effective Board Papers Every Time

The impact of board papers on meetings and decision-making is often underestimated. Here are some steps that will help you consistently write effective board papers:

1. Write with the Reader in Mind

When drafting board papers, always consider your audience. Understand the purpose of your documents and determine the necessary and unnecessary information for the board to make strategic decisions. High-level insights at a departmental level and overviews of available data often provide the board with what they need.

Top tip: Remember that a picture is worth a thousand words. Instead of delving into detail, use graphs, pie charts, and tables to visually display information and data trends.

Write for the reader

2. Use Plain Language

Excessive jargon can diminish the value of the information and divert attention from what truly matters. Write in plain and simple English to ensure accessibility for everyone. Board members possess varying areas of expertise, so using marketing jargon would be irrelevant for someone primarily focused on financial matters, and vice versa.

As part of the general process, employ a formal business writing style to maintain content relevance and comprehensibility for all parties involved. When unavoidable jargon, technical terms, or legalese arise, consider including a glossary of meanings.

3. Include Fresh Information

Board meetings are time-sensitive, so avoid regurgitating the same content from previous meetings. While reminders and context are appropriate and valuable, presenting “old” information as new is unhelpful and a mismanagement of time.

4. Share Only Relevant Information

Efficient time management is crucial during board meetings. Stick to the agenda, keep discussions moving, and make decisions promptly. When preparing board papers, eliminate superfluous details and provide concise and impactful points on the topics covered. Context is important, but consider the level of detail necessary for the decision-making process.

5. Avoid Duplicating the Management Report

Simply copying information from the management report does not result in effective board papers. Although information from the management report may find relevance in board papers, avoid replicating it verbatim. Highlight the critical differences between a management report and a board paper:

Management report Board paper
In-depth details Concise information
Comprehensive data Relevant and targeted insights

6. Rely on Facts and Evidence

As the author of board papers, it’s easy to underestimate your understanding of the context and core rationale behind each statement. Remember that your readers may not possess the same knowledge. Support persuasive statements with evidence to reinforce their credibility without excessive explanations.

Top tip: Back up your statements with evidence to ensure they make sense to the reader.

7. Connect Content to Strategy

After discussing a specific action or decision, it’s helpful to outline the corresponding strategy that was considered. This provides readers with a better understanding of the underlying goals. For example, when explaining a new sales method implemented by the sales team, provide insights such as competitor analysis or customer feedback that led to the decision. This context helps the board grasp the journey and background before making decisions.

8. Structure Your Content Effectively

To ensure clarity, prioritize the most important topics and adopt a structure that highlights them. Consider the following formatting styles:

  • Create a structured layout, including an index or appendix and page numbers.
  • Use the preferred house style, including font options and relevant branding (e.g., colors).
  • Format headers and titles.
  • Utilize bullet points to emphasize key facts rather than lengthy paragraphs.
  • Use bold, italic, and underline formatting options to highlight crucial issues.
  • When applicable, provide hyperlinks as sources of information in online documents.

A logical order within the documents is crucial. If one decision depends on another, position the critical decision first to inform subsequent ones.

9. Be Concise, Accurate, and Relevant

Simplify the information you present and substantiate it with facts and figures. Include only the most relevant details, ensuring their accuracy. If necessary, provide links or references to sources, previous board meetings, or notes to ensure accuracy.

Verify the sources of your information and data, maintaining transparency. When significant decisions are at stake, thoroughly explore the risks and consequences of each option instead of merely highlighting the benefits.

10. Edit Thoroughly

Allocate ample time for board paper preparation. Don’t hesitate to edit and trim your document. Begin by including the most relevant information, then step back and revisit it the following day for fresh perspective and editing insights.

Continuously edit until you are confident that the information shared is concise and to the point. Your goal is to provide the most relevant and valuable insights to help board members make informed decisions. Don’t be afraid to remove sections that do not contribute to the decision-making process.

11. Value Feedback

Peer feedback can significantly improve the quality of your board papers, particularly when viewed from a fresh perspective. Consider using Google Translate to read the text aloud, as this can help identify sentences that may not make sense.

If you are new to creating board papers, don’t hesitate to seek feedback. Experienced board members can provide valuable insights and offer guidance to improve your future papers.

Understand the value of feedback

What Do Directors Expect from Board Papers?

Board papers should clearly present all the necessary information, facts, and figures required for strategic decision-making. Missing, incomplete, or inaccurate information can lead to poor decisions, resulting in a lack of progress for the organization.

Directors, both executive and non-executive, bear the responsibility of staying well-informed when making decisions. Poor decision-making may even result in removal from their positions or legal action if they fail to act fairly or in good faith.

So, what exactly do directors need from board papers? Directors expect:

  1. Holistic information on organizational performance.
  2. Details of critical events, corporate crises, and major issues.
  3. Updates on changes made or discussed since the previous meeting.
  4. A concise summary of the decisions to be made, including relevant context and background.
  5. Balanced and unbiased outcome forecasting, encompassing risks, consequences, and benefits.
  6. A plan of action.

FAQs

What are the “Three C’s”?

When preparing board documents, it is crucial to focus on the three C’s (or even five C’s, according to some) of effective communication: clarity, conciseness, and completeness. Ensure your writing is clear, concise, and includes all relevant information to create comprehensive board papers.

How long should a board paper be?

The length of a board paper can vary depending on the frequency of board meetings and the time elapsed since the last one. However, it is advisable to keep board papers as concise as possible while still conveying the necessary information. Aim to limit them to a maximum of three to four pages to ensure an effective meeting. If your board report exceeds this length, consider editing it down to include only the most relevant information.

What are the three types of board papers?

The three types of board papers are:

  • Papers for decision or approval: These provide the data necessary for the board to make informed decisions.
  • Papers for discussion: They inform the board about specific issues or potential issues that may require a decision in the future, but not immediately.
  • Papers for noting: These papers communicate information that does not require action or a decision.

The type of board paper will inform its structure and the data included.

References and Further Reading