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Strategy - Using the board intelligently

In a competitive business world, how can a company’s board help to drive progress? Simon Albert of Board Intelligence argues that an intelligently-prepared board pack is key to success.

Boards are not alone in striving to gain a competitive edge from information. In the Armed Forces, it was for good reason that personnel referred to fighting the ‘information battle’, where the quality of information could mean the difference between mission success and failure, between life and death.

Despite this, traditional board reporting has, for many companies, put boards on the back foot. Too often we hear directors complain that their packs are overlong, dominated by historic financial information and lacking insight and concision. Or as one non-executive recently commented: “Which particular needle am I meant to be looking for in this haystack?”

Since information is the stimulus for the conversation that follows in the boardroom, a direct consequence of an overload of retrospective information is that too much time is spent looking at what went wrong in the past and not enough on guiding and shaping the organisation to become the business it wants to be. It is like trying to drive your car relying predominantly on your rear-view mirror – and, for some, a misty one at that.

So the question is: how can you improve your company board pack?

The most unwieldy packs are often the product of multiple attempts at improvement. A common mistake is to start by asking the board what they do and don’t like about their current pack and what they would like done differently – an approach that is guaranteed to generate a shopping list of requests and a larger board pack.

Instead of asking the board “what do you want in your board pack?” and fiddling with the current pack, the right place to start would be for an organisation to ask itself “what do we want from the board?” To help an organisation to answer this question, we have developed a simple but effective tool called the Six Conversations model. The model helps directors consider the full gamut of their role and to identify, in plain English, the value the board will add to the organisation’s strategy, performance and conduct, from both a supervisory and stewardship standpoint.

This is an extract from the Finance & Management Magazine, Issue 214, October 2013.

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