Information digestion: Prepare the board without overloading them
Wednesday, July 26, 2017
"Help! My board wants a big packet of information prior to a board meeting. But they don't read it, and the next-generation board members hate it!" said one executive director who puts together a 300-page packet for each board meeting.
"How do you know?" I pushed back.
"We measure the click-through rate on the board packet, and it is very low. Mostly no one opens it," she said. "It seems impossible to satisfy both the audience that wants the big packet versus those that want brevity."
But it is possible to satisfy both while transitioning to a more condensed tool.
The key to making this transition to a more condensed packet is not to make it all at once. You can still satisfy the board member wanting the additional pages while satisfying the board member that wants the information in digestible bites.
Split the board packet into four parts:
1. The agenda
Before you even think about your board book, the agenda is the key to a successful meeting. Not only does the agenda capture key topics and timing, but it also identifies meaningful points in the meeting where critical actions will occur.
The first step to shrinking the board packet is to structure your agenda so that each item discussed directly corresponds to your organization's strategic plan. This will allow for a greater focus on achieving the mission, but more importantly, the agenda is not loaded up with items that are not relevant for discussion.
2. The executive summary
Even though this is listed as No. 2 in terms of the report, you must write your management report first. Once you write your management report, you can then summarize it even further in the executive summary.
Write a 3-5-page executive summary of all of the relevant information in the board packet that aligns with your strategic agenda and management report so the readers understand what will occur and what they need to take action on during the meeting. Include comments around where key motions/resolutions will be made or passed as well as any key dashboards (i.e. financial, strategic plan, membership, etc.).
Also, hyperlink important documents in the PDF for ease of accessibility. It is a fact that if your board members need to hunt for an attachment or a document, they will give up. This is extremely important. Adobe Acrobat offers many features to make the document navigable.
3. The management report
Provide a management report that is no more than 20 pages and goes into further detail around specifics in the board packet. This may include a financial review, a detailed update around the strategic plan, progress on vendor agreements/contracts, etc.
This section allows the reader who wants more information to dig deeper and gain an even better understanding of the focus of the board meeting.
This is the section that would include supporting documents, such as the full committee reports, the full budget, the strategic plan and its corresponding updates, etc. They would have specific links to them for ease of access.
They are there as supplemental information only unless called out in the executive summary or management report as an item that needs to be read in its entirety. This section satisfies the data junkie who wants to do a deep dive but also includes the information that the board is used to seeing — for now.
Weaning the board off the 300-page board packet to something more concise and meaningful as a management tool will take 4-6 board meetings with the new format. The goal is for the executive summary and the management report to be fully read so the board is exercising its fiduciary responsibility. With a three-page executive summary and a 20-page management report, 23 pages is not that difficult to get through.
The path to brevity
Once the board has seen the new format over a period of 4-6 meetings and adopted a strategic agenda, you should see at least a 50 percent reduction in the overall board packet's size after 2-4 meetings. By the sixth meeting, you should see another 25 percent reduction.
The key is to adhere to the strategic agenda, include only meaningful information and reduce the number of documents in the appendix.
Less work from shrinking your board packet is not the biggest benefit your organization will receive. By moving toward the path of brevity at each meeting, the board will be more focused on the mission of the organization and achieving its strategic goals. Your board will turn into a "lean, mean, strategic machine."
Take the first step with your agenda, and the rest will follow.
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