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The Impossible Dream: One-Page Board Papers

Impossible.” That was management’s view when the Chair of a major Corporation said they wanted board papers to be one page long with a maximum of 10 supporting “PowerPoint charts.”  But it has happened.

This Chair is not alone — other Boards that are sick of being inundated with massive, inconsistent and poorly thought out board papers are also moving toward one-pagers. They see this as a way of reducing the time and risks involved in untangling poorly prepared papers while supporting better discussion and decision making.

Here are the steps that this Chair took to achieve this “impossible” dream:

Got buy in. The Board needed to want to drive clarity and streamline board papers while ensuring all the corporate governance checks were met.

Built capability.  We ran workshops for all the senior team and their direct reports who authored board papers about simple approaches to structuring problem solving (to avoid the rubbish in rubbish out syndrome), synthesizing ideas into a clear and compelling argument and creating a clear board paper and supporting exhibits.  One of our clients has had the board members come and talk to the board paper authors about what they are looking for in a board paper and what their hot buttons are.

Click here if you would like to see a Clarity Workshop Kit that will help you teach your team how to use structured thinking techniques to prepare your next board paper.

Got the Board aligned.  We also explained our approach and thinking to the Board so they would know how to “read” the new board papers.

Agreed ground rules.  These vary by board, but the basics are the same:

  • Every board paper author must produce a “storyline” for their board paper. Click here to learn how to prepare a storyline.
  • The storyline needs to be signed off with the senior level sponsor.
    • Every board paper must conform to the agreed format and length. Some Boards include these in the board paper itself as an executive summary

Shared the love.  It’s important to share the learning across all board paper authors and also to share examples of great board papers that others can use as a model.

Click here if you would like some more guidance on writing board papers and some templates that will help you prepare your next one.

The result — clearer board papers and more time spent of discussing the right issues!

About Davina Stanley

Davina Stanley is Co-Founder and Managing Director of neosi. Team neosi consists of a small group of communication specialists who have 40 years’ experience in helping clients clarify their thinking before they communicate. The team, originally trained at McKinsey & Company, offers a range of online solutions, including software and eCourses, while also serving clients in Australia, Asia Pacific and elsewhere. They have published a number of documents on Flevy related to the topics of corporate communication, structured thinking, and communication clarity.

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