A guide to better board reporting

ICSA and Board Intelligence launch guidance and tools to help with producing board packs.

A few months ago I posted a request for assistance on this blog. We were at the early stages of writing new guidance on producing timely and targeted board packs and wanted to make good use of the collective expertise and experience of ICSA members and other governance professionals – in other words, to pinch all your good ideas.

I came in to the office the next day to find my desk physically buckling under the weight of all the emails I had received in response. The quantity and the quality of your comments were tremendous. It is clear that many of you have been grappling with how to produce effective board papers in the most efficient manner and we are very grateful that you were willing to take the time to share your experience with us.

The guidance, developed in partnership with Board Intelligence, has now been published and is available to download for free from the ICSA website. The content of ‘Effective Board Reporting’ draws heavily on the contributions that we received, and sprinkled throughout it are quotes from your comments that we think help to illustrate the points being made.

Effective board reporting is an issue for all organisations regardless of their size and sector, so it not possible to write a detailed step-by-step ‘how to’ guide – or at least it is not possible to do so without producing something that is overlong, impenetrable and shares all the faults of the bad board papers we are trying to eliminate.

So instead the guidance is structured around a series of questions for organisations to ask themselves, supported by commentary that we hope will help them work out what the right answer is for them.

The guidance starts with the series of questions for board members about what they see as their priorities and what information they need to be able to deliver them – questions such as ‘is the board clear about how it wishes to split its time between setting strategy, overseeing operational performance and governance and compliance matters?’ and ‘are there clear criteria and thresholds for determining when issues should be brought to the board?’

This is in many ways the key to successful board reporting. If the board is not clear about what purpose the papers it receives are meant to serve, then by definition those papers cannot be fit for purpose.

The rest of the guidance deals with the practicalities of commissioning, writing, reviewing and distributing board papers. It covers a lot of what will be familiar territory for many readers, but we hope that you will all find some new ideas or insights that will be useful to you in your organisations. There are also some exciting new buzzwords like ‘rocket-ship reporting’ that we hope will take off (sorry about that, but the editor permits me one bad pun per post).

The guidance is only one of several new resources that the ICSA and Board Intelligence have developed to help improve the quality of board discussion and support.

I have written here previously about the cost calculator, which has been developed to enable organisations to quantify the resources that they devote to briefing their board – the time and effort as well as the money.

To that we have now added a Board Reporting Assessment tool. As the name suggests, this has been designed as a quick and easy way of assessing how well your board packs are meeting the needs of the board and organisation. It covers the length, accessibility and quality of board papers as well as the efficiency and security of your board reporting processes.

We hope you find these new resources useful. When you have had a chance to use them, please send your feedback to betterboardpacks@icsa.org.uk so that we can refine and develop them further. That way you can continue to help us to help you.

Chris Hodge FCIS is policy advisor at ICSA: The Governance Institute

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