A board package is more than just a compilation of documents; it is a catalyst for knowledge transfer and discussion in a board meeting. But because there are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to putting together a board package, different organisations follow their own processes.
However, some practices are effective, while others are mistakes. Is your organisation guilty of committing the latter? Here are typical board package mistakes and why organisations should stop making them:
1. Using printed board packages or the wrong digital tools
Some organisations still stick to paper-based board packages out of habit, but this is not an advisable practice especially when more practical options are available, such as board portal software.
For each board meeting, corporate secretaries would have to print out a full book-sized board package for every director. Think about how much paper is wasted — and how much time is spent on the collation, binding, and mailing process. You can get rid of these expenses when your organisation adopts board portal software. Our paperless board meeting savings calculator can help you determine the exact cost savings.
But why board portal software? Why use it when you can use email, word processors, and PDFs? There’s nothing wrong with these tools on their own, but for board meetings, they’re hardly ideal. Yes, they’re better than paper, but they don’t offer the streamlined experience you can get from board portal software. With third-party tools, directors have to switch between tools depending on what they want to do. Each tool will look and behave differently and, if authentication is required, directors need to sign in to each one. In contrast, a board portal gives directors access to everything they need in one place with a consistent look and feel.
Board portal software, having been designed specifically for board meetings, is also more secure. Board portal vendors know that organisations handle sensitive data in such high-level meetings, so most board portal solutions are equipped with standard enterprise-grade security and permission controls. The same thing can’t be said for the usual productivity tools.
2. Sending out the board package a day before a board meeting
The board package should be sent several days before a board meeting to allow directors enough time to read the materials and prepare for the agenda. Sending the board package the night before a board meeting is not only a sign of disrespect for people’s time, but of a lack of system on the administrative level as well. It makes directors question how management works within your organisation if corporate secretaries couldn’t even put together a board pack with enough time to spare.
On a more pressing note, delayed board packages also influence the board meeting culture for directors. If the board package usually arrives late, directors will learn not to prioritise your organisation. How can they, if they don’t get the information they need on a timely manner? Once this develops as a habit, it will be difficult to change their perception.
Nowadays, there’s no excuse for sending out the board package late. Board meeting solutions automate and streamline board package creation — and the rest of the board meeting process — so all documents can be collated and sent out with just a few clicks. As already mentioned, there’s no time wasted in printing out pages, binding documents into books, mailing them out in packages, and waiting for the courier to deliver them to recipients.
3. Adding statistics without point of comparison or proper context
In its raw form, data is just numbers with no meaning. For data to be usable in decision-making and strategising, it should be presented in a way that’s easy to interpret, ideally with the help of visual aids. Graphs, a form of visual aid, show relationships between numbers, making it easier for directors to understand how different sets of statistics affect each other.
Data should also have a basis for comparison to show proper context. For example, a statement that says “Sales reached $3 million GBP in Q1” isn’t exactly useful on its own. Does this sentence denote a loss or a gain? What time period can this statistic be compared to? Now, let’s enhance the statement to give context to the data: “Sales reached $3 million GBP in Q1, marking a 3.5 percent growth compared to Q1 of the previous year.” Between the two sentences, which one do you think will directors find more useful?
Directors will make decisions and design strategies based on the information they have at hand. Given their busy schedules, the last thing they need is to receive a board package drowning in numbers, and not much else. Directors need meaningful data — and not necessarily tons of data — as their baseline.
4. Adding complicated financial statements
Not all directors have a background in finance, so only some of them will be able to appreciate and comprehend spreadsheets. And even if they can, trying to decipher spreadsheets still takes time.
A one-page summary of the organisaton’s financials is enough for a board meeting, plus an income statement and a budget comparison to put the data in context. Highlight financial performance, specifically key points such as revenue, gains vs. losses, changes from year to year, used-up budget vs. allocated budget, and remaining budget, among other things. These snapshot overviews are what matters most to directors, and extra information should be given only if asked for to avoid inundating the board with too much data.
If any director requests for detailed financials, the data should be made readily available to them. This is where board portal software comes in handy. Through board portal software, directors can pull up as many reports as they want on their tablet while they’re connected to the Internet. They can also download these documents for offline review, in case they lose access to the Internet for any reason.
5. Including a too-long list of developments since the last board meeting
You’ve probably guessed by now that brevity matters a lot in creating a board package, even when you’re using board software. A director may be sitting on multiple boards, so your organisation’s board package isn’t the only one they have to read all the way through. The more concise a board package is, the more likely directors will give it the attention it deserves. There’s nothing more off-putting than blocks of texts on a tablet screen.
Keep the list of previous key events concise by using bullet points instead of long paragraphs. Ideally, this list shouldn’t be longer than a page, and cover only the relevant developments since the last board meeting. Directors can delve deeper into the items listed during the board meeting itself.
Don’t forget that the board package is just a supplement to the board meeting. Directors will use it as springboard to tackle issues in further depth, if there are any.
6. Not creating separate sections for board resolutions and strategic discussions
Action items are under board resolutions and strategic discussions, so you can expect them to change from one board meeting to the next. As variables, they are often the highlights of a typical board meeting. Therefore, it’s best to place them in their own sections to emphasise their importance. Avoid lumping them in one section or putting them under their respective department’s section in the board package (e.g., Pending action items related to marketing shouldn’t be put under the ‘marketing’ section which is reserved for reporting purposes).
It’s faster to create different sections when board portal software is used. Because there’s no physical limitation that comes with paper, corporate secretaries can create sections as needed, and can list action items with as much background information as necessary. To experience the capabilities of board software firsthand, try out Convene, our highly secure and usable board portal solution that works on iPads and Android tablets. As an efficient board portal solution, Convene makes board package creation a streamlined and automatic process.
What other board package mistakes have you encountered in previous board meetings? Share them with us in the comments below.