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What should be in the board pack?

A Board of Directors has a series of responsibilities that can only be discharged properly by having access to the right information – but how do you decide what should be in the board pack?

One of the difficulties of sitting on a board, especially if you are a Non Executive Director (or NED) is that the focus needs to change from the day to day running of the company to a more strategic and oversight role. This is where many NEDs suffer because it’s a natural reaction, especially if you have many years experience in a managerial capacity to want lots of in depth material. It’s a reaction that can prove counter-productive because lots of detail can lead to a loss of focus on the job directors are there to do.

So how do you decide what needs to be included in the board pack?

This is almost like a ‘piece of string’ question because companies are all different. Larger companies may have more onerous reporting requirements and a bigger board but there are some general rules of thumb that can help.

Executive Summary – and it really should be a summary. It’s sponsored by the MD whose aim should be to give the board an overall high level view of what has happened since the last board. It’s the entree if you like to the more meaty reports from the leaders in the functional areas. Of course often the MD feels they are the most important person in the room and will try and write a novel but that’s not the point of the exercise. It really is only the precursor to the main event. Keep it to a side of A4 if possible.

KPIs – this again should be a high level report based around the key drivers of the business. The KPIs themselves should be chosen well in advance by the board and should be a result of their understanding of how the business runs and what they key drivers are. A really well designed KPI report will include around half a dozen metrics that will encapsulate exactly how the business is doing and will again fit on one side of A4. In an ideal world each of the functional departments will have a KPI that they will report on in subsequent sections so that the whole pack forms a pyramid.

Finance – Above all the board are the keepers of the shareholders’ money so a finance report is a key component of a board pack. Remember though that your FD is a numbers man/lady and they’ll want to include information down to a low level. They really should only give you the information one level down from the KPI’s and then use this as a method of stimulating questions because it’s the discussion in a board where the real value lies.

Marketing – for any company the driver to success has to be an effective and active marketing department. For companies that practice a customer focused methodology then it’s crucial as marketing will influence everything from product development right through to after sales servicing. Of course marketers are fantastic salespeople and will love to tell you everything in great detail. Again they need to be focused on providing a level of information appropriate for strategic discussion and not how many hits the website has had.

Operations – This is probably the area where companies will differ the most but of course it is also the engine room of the business. This report needs to be all about how the firm goes about it’s work. What’s working well and what not so. What does the company need to do differently and what investment needs to be made to make things better?

Compliance – often firms need to report out to an external body such as OFSTED, CSCI etc. It’s important that these bodies are given comfort that their concerns are given prominence at board level but also that the firm internally considers matters of compliance all year round and not just at reporting time. Again this needs to be at a high level and could take a similar form to the risk register.

Risk/Audit – The Directors are custodians of the firm so they need to be mindful of risks that may turn up in the future, assess these and mitigate where required. A comprehensive and updated risk register is the key here and again forms the spur to discussion. Similarly they need to plan an audit and work on the findings and the level of information will naturally change just before and after an audit.

Projects/special reports – there are points throughout the year where something may be happening that requires The Directors attention. It may be the findings of the remuneration committee or a large company wide project that is occurring but whatever it is the board need a good high level overview of how things are progressing.

PESTLE – this really goes to the heart of what the board are there to do. It doesn’t need to take the form of the ubiquitous PESTLE (Political,Economic,Sociological,Technological, Legal and Environmental) format but there needs to be an appreciation of the firm’s place in the world and the external factors that could affect it. After all if The Directors don’t understand where the rocks are how will they steer the ship?

It’s also really important to think about how this information will be consumed and used. SME NEDs often only get one day a month paid and will be expected to attend a meeting for half a day. The pack needs to be light enough that it can be read and understood within an hour or so. It needs to strike a balance between enough detail for good understanding but not too much that it takes an age to read because trust me – people won’t read it. Remember also that we are all different. I hate paper information, some people love it so be prepared to provide it in whatever way is most comfortable for your individual Directors.

Consistency is important as time spent looking for where the latest sales figures are will put people off but also mean that they have less time to actually understand the numbers. Keep a consistent format and style for each report each month and make sure that the pack is distributed at the same time every month so that the directors know when to expect it.

The aim of the board pack is to educate and inform but also to stimulate debate. As a general rule of thumb one quarter of the meeting should be given over to presentation of the reports for each area and three quarters should be allowed for discussion because as started earlier this is where the real value is added. The overriding message has to be focus,focus,focus.

Although there is no ‘standard’ board pack, following the guidelines above should get you most of the way towards a good level of content for your company to make the most of it’s Board of Directors’ talents.

Isango8 specialise in information presentation. If you’d like us to help you reformat your board pack and identify your KPIs then please get in touch for an informal chat and we can tell you how we can help.

 

Numbers and levers

In the second of this series I’m looking at why you should always present a number with a lever attached.

When you present numbers to a director or a manager what do they want?

Generally if you ask they’ll say words like ‘clarity’ or ‘understanding’ but in fact what they are really after is the information to make a decision.

The question they are really asking is ‘should I pull this lever’.

Levers can be all sorts of things – ‘do I increase my adwords spend?’, ‘Should we buy more stock?’, ‘Where should we invest our surplus cash?’

What’s important is what drives your business. There’s actually very few drivers for most businesses. British Airways for example found that the one Key Performance Indicator (KPI) for their business was the gate turnaround time. If they turned their very expensive aircraft round quickly they were able to run more routes thus increasing their profit.

The question you need to ask is ‘what thing drives my business?’ There may be more than one of course but it’s unlikely there’d be more than say half a dozen.

Some examples of drivers

If you run a shop then a key performance indicator could be the sales per square foot. If  you change your stock mix, increase your prices or bring in new lines then it’s likely that your sales per square foot will be affected. Make a change and watch how your KPI changes. You then know whether you should pull the lever that says ‘buy different stock’.

A bakery might monitor waste. If you throw a lot of bread away then it suggests you’re either not baking what people want to buy or simply baking too much. It tells you to pull the lever marked ‘change your bake plan’.

A transport company may monitor MPG. When the vehicles start using more fuel then they are either worn and in need of replacement or a service.

Of course there are things that really aren’t KPIs with levers attached. Monitoring your rent is usually not productive. Most firms rent doesn’t change month on month and because they are tied to a lease there’s little they can actually do about it. No lever. Reporting the rent is simply confusing the picture.

In summary then the figures you report need to be something you can affect by your behaviour. A lever is something that is not only variable but can be affected by management action and all figures reported must have a lever attached.

 

6 Golden rules of presenting numbers

If you’re put in charge of presenting a lot of numerical data to a group then what can you do to make sure people see what you need them to see?

The first in this series is a list of golden rules to abide by to make your presentations stand out.

There will be more editions giving you further specific advice to help you with presentation coming soon.

1 Never present a number that doesn’t have a lever attached-

Seriously what’s the point? It may give you or your audience a sense of comfort to know there are loads of numbers floating around the organisation but if you can’t do anything with them then they are just so much noise.

2 Less is more – 

Don’t confuse quantity with quality. Focus on presenting just a few key metrics. The things that really drive the business instead of putting a number to every aspect of the firm and then printing them on a tree.

3 Space on the page should stay just that –

Lots of blank white space focuses the eye on the number you want people to see. Don’t use a lot of interesting and funky graphics, lines, colours or shading. Leave it clean and crisp and to the point.

4 Just because you can doesn’t mean you should –

No seriously, we know you’re good at excel, that’s why you’re where you are but just because excel 2013 can do sparklines doesn’t mean every sheet should have them. Steer away from the fancy stuff and go for understanding rather than pretty graphics. Whilst we’re about it backgrounds are an absolute no-no.

5 Always add context-

Numbers without context are just so much hamster bedding. The skill of a high level manager is not to produce accurate numbers (we kind of assume you’ll do that anyway) but it’s the richness of interpretation that adds real value to an organisation. Add (short) commentaries of why readers should care that Gross Profit is down and you’re getting there.

6 Always ask ‘Why?’-

Whenever you’re adding a feature, a metric or a format to a page ask yourself why. Does it add anything? If someone asks you to add in another figure to an already full sheet then ask them why. What specific insight is it that they hope to gain?

Now it may be that you’re in a regulated industry and you have to report in a specific way with specific information. In which case you should ignore all of the above because you’re not allowed to rewrite the governing body’s report structure. but for other internal reports you should use the above rules and go for clean, insightful pages that cut to the chase and you’ll be surprised how much more fruitful the discussions will be.