Fine-tuning board papers for SMEs

At best, board papers are the primary source of vital information for directors; at worst, they can lead to information overload and cause critical issues to be overlooked. NRMA company director, Tim Trumper offers practical advice on effective board papers for SME directors.

Trumper said one of the classic mistakes people often make is that they think they need to document everything. “If you want to keep the directors engaged, then a crisp and clear paper of the issues, of what needs to be done, discussed or acted on, is not a bad guide to start with,” he says.

“The ability now to regurgitate information is so easy with cut and paste but this can create a huge document that is over-engineered and lacks the pointy, pithy and relevant information needed.”

There is a point where there is too much information and that the main issues can be overlooked. “Often there is so much verbiage, it doesn’t cut right through. It is important to focus on what is essential to know, what decisions need to be made and what other information should be brought into the discussion. Keep it frank and informed.”

He suggests the use of dashboards as a way to highlight main issues. “I’ve been in some meetings where board papers and dashboards are used to focus on the main issues. Signposts such as red, orange and green can be used in the documents to signify what has to be noted, what is urgent and what is just background material. This works well.”

The use of simple language is also encouraged. “Another risk is when there is so much information that the main issues or flagged issues are weighted the same as all the others. When you have board papers with 150 or more pages, then realistically how are you going to weight 150 pages?” Trumper says. “There will be times when this amount of pages can’t be avoided. However, there will be other times, when you can cover the business as usual, in a dashboard style. You can also add appendices such as; for your information there is XYZ article.”

Another good discipline is to review the board papers. “Review the board paper process regularly. Ask the directors, which parts of it are they extracting the most value of from? Have a frank exchange of what works.”