Communicating with Your Board: The Summary

This is the fourth and final post (for now) in my series on communicating with your board.  You can find the previous posts here, here and here.

As a corporate director, I wince when I get a board package that opens up with a stack of detailed group-level reports and loads of spreadsheets containing every piece of financial data possible about the company’s past, current and future state.  To be sure, such information is a necessary part of running a successful business and should be included in the board package, but when information about the company is only presented this way, it’s difficult for anyone to absorb the key facts and figures about the company so that they can perform a relatively informed advisory role as a board member. 

It’s even more difficult when the audience for the information – think the VCs on your board – get such a package from a large number of companies prior to each of their board meetings.  It’s just not possible to, 1. spend the time to decipher what is going on and, 2. recall how the data presented is related to many of the programs, goals and initiatives that were previously agreed to.  For these reasons, and the fact that it’s easy to get data from various companies confused, such a comprehensive report will often be ignored.

To quote Winston Churchill,

This report, by its very length, defends itself against being read.”

Dealing with this is simple, of course.  Just summarize the information, relating it to previous discussions, goals and objectives and put that document at the beginning of your board package.  It shouldn’t need to be said, but what I mean by summarize is to make it concise and short.  Again, quoting Winston Churchill:

Please be good enough to put your conclusions and recommendations on one sheet of paper in the very beginning of your report, so I can even consider reading it”

Sometimes, it will be the only part of the board package read by some of your board members prior to the meeting.  Sad but true, I’m afraid.

So, the summary should be the first thing in the board package and should contain:

  • High-level sales statistics, including major or important deals
  • Rollouts of products or services
  • Changes in key customer, partner or channel relationships
  • Important legal or accounting issues facing the company
  • Changes from the staffing plan – major hires and unexpected departures that will impact the business
  • Unexpected changes to the financial position of the company
  • Unusual market or competitive moves
  • Status of major initiatives within the company

You get the idea.  Additionally, any item that was reported on before should also include a note making it clear if there has been a change.  This is especially important for items that have specific, timed deliverables.  The key is, again, that if it takes more than one page, you’re not focused enough. 

I’d bet you’ll find that summarizing your board material in this way will not only make the board package more convenient for your audience, but it will also help you discern and focus on the important parts of your business.  There’s nothing quite like trying to make things short and complete when explaining things to others in helping one understand the material for themselves.

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