Andy Thomas, Partner

Thought leadership

5 tips to pack more punch into your board pack

Great news – you’ve completed your latest funding round!

After the completion celebration hangover starts to subside, it dawns on you that your first board meeting with the new investor is just a couple of weeks away and you committed to pulling together a board pack for it. You might never have done one before, which begs the question:

What does a good board pack look like?

A good board pack is essential, and it can make the difference between a board meeting which is valuable time to drive the strategy and performance of the business forward, versus one that might feel like time wasted keeping an investor happy, with no real benefit for the business or the executive team.

We’re often asked if we have a template – at which point, we awkwardly confess we don’t – which might not look like a great start for your value-adding investor! The reason we don’t have an ‘off-the-shelf’ option is because a pack should be right for each business and its strategy, which necessitates a bespoke approach. But that’s an easy get-out for me, and there are some consistent themes that should help to pull together a valuable pack, so here are five tips to help maximise the value.

  1. Most people want a board meeting to be forward looking, focused on big decisions and strategy. But if 90% of the pack is about what happened last month, don’t be surprised if 90% of the board meeting is backward looking too. Reporting what has happened in the business is important – finance is the obvious example – but could you share the information earlier in the month, so that it’s old news by the time of the board meeting? This can then allow you to dedicate more of the pack to the current risks and opportunities the business faces and tee-up key debates to enable important decisions to be made
  2. If the strategy is clear, the pack (almost) writes itself. If you can boil the strategy down to half a dozen key success factors, then this would naturally become a large part of the structure for a pack. It should be obvious from reading a pack what the strategy is, and, conversely, if it’s difficult to pull together a pack that aligns with the strategy, that could be a symptom that suggests more work is needed to clarify the strategy
  3. Data is great but remember the “so what?” test. Having KPIs that are consistently reported – and automatically generated – is important, but to make it more useful, try to take time to add a comment to give the data some context. Is the data showing we’re on the right path? Does it foretell a potential performance issue on the horizon? Does the data reveal anything surprising? This little bit of framing of the data upfront can help drive a more useful and focussed debate in the board meetin
  4. Don’t let the format determine the content. Most board packs we see are in PowerPoint, which can be useful for lots of things, but it does tend to discourage prose, even though sometimes a few paragraphs from the CEO to tell you what’s on their mind can be more insightful than a deck full of charts. The opposite can be true of Word-based packs. I’m not advocating the chopping and changing of format for each board pack, but rather to be mindful that the application shouldn’t drive or limit the content. The key thing is to communicate the key things, in whatever format works best
  5. A shorter pack that is relevant is better than a longer pack that isn’t. Over the years, new bits tend to get added to a pack, especially from unhelpful investors like me that keep having great new ideas for slides or KPIs that might be useful! This can lead to bloated packs with redundant areas that nobody can quite remember the original genesis of, but which continue through custom and practice. A regular cull can help keep the pack lean, so that it remains an efficient process for both its writers and readers.

Pulling together a pack is probably never going to be fun, but it shouldn’t feel like a chore either. If you get it right, it can set the tone for hugely productive boards, and that, in turn, helps the business move forwards with buy-in from the non-execs and investors.

No two board packs are the same though, and don’t let anyone tell you they should be, but do engage with everyone that’s attending the board to get their views on what’s useful, what’s working, what’s no longer working, and keep it under review. You’ll probably never feel the pack is perfect – I’m sure we’ve never achieved that yet in our business because it’s an impossible standard to hit – but if you can keep making it a little better, you should unlock more value from your board.

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