The Seven Deadly Sins of Board Papers

A singular specimen of the scientific class of Aves contained within the boundaries of the upper prehensile is roughly equivalent to the double inventory of that item within a low-spreading thicket.


Simply put, that’s “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”.

And simply put again, such verbose and rambling language fills one of the spots in what I call The Seven Deadly Sins of Board Papers.

Complicated, acronym-filled language in board papers fails to take into account the fact that the role of those on the board is intermittent. They come in once a month, and while reasonable to expect them to have a basic grasp of the language of the sector, convoluted copy doesn’t aid comprehension and therefore defeats the object of the exercise.

Let’s look at the other six deadly sins management can be guilty of when preparing board papers.

We’ll start with too confusing as that’s in some way related to our first point. Management tends to be well-versed in issues being recommended as they’ve usually discussed them at length and prepared detailed papers. But then they mess it all up by doing a crude cut and paste of earlier management papers and present this for board member consumption. It seldom if ever works and executives should prepare something from scratch, that’s tight and logical and covers off on the key points.

Sometimes there’s just too much information – I know of a board pack that ran to 1,000 pages – and it’s way beyond what anyone can consume and comprehend in a few short days leading up to a board meeting. Management must be reasonable about the time board members can set aside for board meeting preparation.

The flipside, of course, is too little information, which can run to just a few pages. In some cases, boards have been known to meet without papers and have allowed management to merely talk to the agenda. As an absolute bare minimum, the board needs the financials and if they’re not getting them, they need to do something about it.

Then there are instances where management will put up a business case justification that can only be described as too lightweight. Many crucial factors such as return on investment haven’t been considered or adequately attended to, rendering the exercise a waste of everyone’s time.

Too scrambled is another perennial. There’s no clear delineation between whether a paper is in the pack for noting, for discussion or for a decision. The best way to overcome this is to divide the agenda into three sections – discussion, decision, noting – and place the various papers in their appropriate sections.

Finally, there’s too late. Unless board papers are delivered to members at least three to five days ahead of the meeting – and in one pack rather than an endless drip feed – it’s unfair to expect the members to adequately prepare.

But I guess the onus really rests with the board. Each board should review their situation against these ‘sins’ and based on their findings, advise management of the information they want, in what format and when.

Until next time,

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