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Earlier this month, we launched the self-assessment tool and guidance at the annual conference in London.I am not going to give too much detail on the cost calculator or self-assessment tool here – far better that you try them out yourself.Advance agenda planning and developing clear and agreed formats for board papers that bring out the most important issues can help to anticipate many challenges, but neither of those should been seen as a one-off exercise.
They are both simple to use and, once you have completed them, will generate some tailored feedback.
In the case of the self-assessment tool, you can also download a version if you wish to share it with your board or management to get their perspective on whether your board packs are hitting the mark.
There is no one-size-fits-all way of producing a board paper and it is therefore best if each board decides for itself how the preparation, format and content of papers should be presented.
Certain basic papers are generally accepted as being necessary: A paper should focus on strategic issues and be signed off by the CEO before being circulated to the board.
The issues and activities described in each section are all interdependent – for example, a paper can be beautifully written, but if it full of irrelevant or unhelpful information because the board was unclear about what it wanted or because the author was not given a clear briefing, then it is of little value.
When planning the board pack, it is important therefore to think about all the different stages.It is therefore essential that the papers on which board members rely are clearly presented and written, so that they do not need to waste their limited time trying to work out what they are being asked to do or searching through long and dense documents looking for the nuggets they need to know.Clear and consistent formatting of papers can help considerably, as it means board members know where to look when presented with a new subject.Neither board members nor those who advise them are clairvoyant.Boards may not be familiar with all the considerations that are relevant to addressing those priorities, or aware of emerging issues.That research, which included the results of a survey of ICSA members, found there was widespread dissatisfaction with both the quantity and quality of board packs – they were too long and very often they were not focused on the issues or information that really mattered.In light of this, and to help governance professionals ensure that their board papers, and the processes that are associated with them, are effective and efficient, we set out to develop three new resources: At the end of the article I invited anyone who was willing to help to drop me a line. Some of you provided or sense checked the data on which the cost calculator was built, while others shared examples of how they have tackled the challenges associated with producing targeted and timely board packs.It is important that the authors of individual papers understand clearly what they are being asked to advise the board on and why; that adequate time is allowed for papers to be written and, where necessary, recommendations to the board to be agreed; and that time is allowed for the board pack as a whole to be reviewed for clarity and balance before being sent to the board.Board agendas will typically cover a wide variety of issues and non-executive and voluntary members in particular will usually have a limited amount of time in which to prepare for meetings and may often have little prior knowledge of the matter they are being asked to consider.Conversely, the executive will often have a lot of data at its disposal but may not be able to anticipate what specific information the board wants to have, which might result in it sharing either too much or too little.The board’s priorities will inevitably change over time and sometimes even from meeting to meeting.