Effective board papers….it’s as simple as E=mc2!

It was a very smart person who said something along the lines of “if you can’t explain it in simple terms, chances are you don’t understand it yourself”.

That smart person was Albert Einstein – and I’m delighted to be able to concur with him, certainly when it comes to the preparation of board papers from management.

My golden rule, especially when we’re dealing with those matters seeking a decision from the board, is for management (that’s you!) to think of the board members as 12-year-olds (no offence!) when writing up the papers.

After all, chances are they’re nowhere near as familiar with or across the detail as you are. You have intimate knowledge, you live the business day in and day out, so try to see things from their ‘outsider’ perspective and make it as easy as possible for them to reach a prudent decision.

The best way to do that, of course, is to provide them with comprehensive information…but presented in terms and language that is clear and easy to understand. And as decisions can have lasting positive or negative impacts, every impact on the company needs to be considered.

As I say, this is particularly pertinent to separate board “Matters for Decision” papers, from “Matters for Strategic Discussion” and “Matters for Noting/Information” papers, the troika of the board pack of papers.

But let’s not confuse comprehensive with verbose, as another golden rule is that in just about all cases barring the odd exception, “Matters for Decision” papers should be no more than three pages in length. If you need to provide background information, that’s fine, but it should be marked clearly as such and attached to a three-page “standalone” summary.

It helps, too, to present the “Matters for Decision” papers in a logical format of clear headings, each covering the key facts only.

The first heading should be ‘Subject’, clearly identifying what the decision is all about.

The next heading will deal with the current situation and explore the status quo, what current policies and practices there are, what the current KPI impact is and what alternatives or options have been considered.

The ‘Reasons for Change’ heading follows, highlighting why change is necessary or beneficial.

Here, external factors warranting change, along with internal factors and KPIs open to improvement are offered for discussion and digestion.

Then it’s on to the crux of the matter, the recommendations, which should be presented as clear and concise statements of who, what, where and when.

It’s wise, too, to close off the recommendations with a review date, where the actual outcomes can be tested – both qualitatively and quantitatively – against those projected.

As I said – or perhaps it was HE who said it and I’m merely paraphrasing – E = mc2.


Until next time,

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One thought on “Effective board papers….it’s as simple as E=mc2!

  1. Hi Kate
    If only ‘government’ could use this approach when attempting to explain policy !!

    But then you would need media that allowed for that .

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