Board packs are too long and backward looking to be properly effective

London, 19 December 2017 – Board packs are too backward looking, internally focused and operational to enable board members to engage in forward-looking and strategic conversations, a report out today by ICSA: The Governance Institute and Board Intelligence reveals. They are also time-consuming to produce.  

According to Jennifer Sundberg, Co-CEO of Board Intelligence:

‘The purpose of a board pack is to enable boards to discuss the important issues and take the decisions that have a bearing on the long-term success of their organisation. This research suggests that in many organisations board papers are a barrier to such discussions, rather than an aid. Too often they are dominated by inward and backward-looking detail, rather than the sort of information that will help the board to plan its future strategy. Furthermore, the sheer volume of information that board and committee members are presented with makes it unlikely they can read it all, let alone absorb it or pick out the key issues.’

The main findings of the research, based on a survey of governance professionals, are as follows:

  • Getting the focus and balance right is a challenge: 68% of respondents overall and 86% of the smallest organisations (those with a turnover of less than £10 million) feel that board packs are too focused on operational rather than strategic issues; 59% overall and 71% of small organisations feel that they are not sufficiently forward looking
  • Board packs are too long: 74% of respondents believe that their board packs are longer than necessary. This figure rises to 85% for the largest organisations (those with a turnover of more than £500 million), where board packs average over 250 pages per meeting – or over 2000 pages a year for main board meetings alone
  • Board packs are time-consuming to prepare: 78% of respondents identify the length of time to prepare board packs to be a challenge (all respondents from the smallest organisations in the survey consider preparing the board pack is too time-consuming, compared to 76% of the largest organisations)
  • Preparation requires improvement: challenges include papers received after the deadline; the lack of standardised reporting formats and issues managing the revision and collation of the various reports.

Peter Swabey, Policy and Research Director at ICSA concludes:

‘It is obvious from the findings that concerns about the usefulness and usability of board packs are not purely a factor of the size or complexity of the organisation concerned, but are shared to some degree by the majority of organisations of all sizes and in all sectors. We will be developing a tool with Board Intelligence that will enable organisations to assess the length and balance of their board packs and identify ways in which they can be improved. We will also be producing guidance to help company secretaries and other governance professionals to address some of the challenges identified by this research’.

- Ends -

For further information, please contact Chris Hodge, ICSA Policy Adviser: 

chodge@icsa.org.uk

+44 (0)20 7612 7065

+44 (0)7738 784 064

Notes to Editors:

  1. ICSA: The Governance Institute is the professional body for governance. We have members in all sectors and are required by our Royal Charter to lead ‘effective governance and efficient administration of commerce, industry and public affairs’. With over 125 years’ experience, we work with regulators and policy makers to champion high standards of governance and provide qualifications, training and guidance.
    Website: www.icsa.org.uk

  2. Board Intelligence provides an interactive toolkit to help management teams write shorter, sharper board papers, driving more focused and productive conversations in the boardroom.  We have over 10,000 users of our tools ranging from listed and private companies to the public sector and charities. For more information please visit: www.boardintelligence.com

  3. The report can be downloaded for free at www.icsa.org.uk/boardreporting

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