One of the recent trends in modern corporations concerned with efficiency, carbon footprints and sustainability is replacing the traditional printed board pack (the large number of pages a Board member is required to read and review prior to an upcoming board meeting) with a digitized version.
According to one of the leaders in this fast growing industry of cutting out excess printing and paper waste at the Board level, digitization of board of director’s reading is a real revolution with numerous benefits. The benefits, from reduced cost to increased speed, include reducing the time (and people) required to prepare, print, collate, mail or courier monthly board pack from days to hours. Besides eliminating paper, electronic and digitized board packs can be accessed at anytime on mobile and tablet platforms as well. They are easier to carry around, secure, can be easily disposed of and kept from prying eyes, and in some cases can even be highlighted and annotated by individual board members for subsequent group discussion. And as mobile and digital technology advances, so will the efficiency of these new digital board papers.
But Faster Waste is Still Waste
I have two major problems with the headlong rush into digitized Board Packs.
Problem 1: Too big to read and digest While this new format may be digital and not paper (saving CO2 emissions and cutting trees, printing and the cost of ink and couriers), most board packs are still several hundred pages long! That’s a lot of reading to get through, especially for busy executives who either have a full-time job leading a business or are retired and on multiple boards. Most of these people don’t even have time for recreational or pleasure reading, let alone a mostly boring tomb of 200 pages, complete with charts and graphs and spreadsheets. And what makes it even more revolting is that 85-90% of the information in a monthly board pack is exactly the same as the previous month.
As a result the fact is (even with best intentions), most Board Directors skim read the board pack, and just spend quality time on the sections relevant to them in their role on the board (audit committee, risk committee, remuneration committee, succession committee, etc.). Not really a well-informed board!
Problem 2: Little Real Information on Strategy Execution
While the majority of board papers have a section on the overall business strategy, and of course the current financial and legal information, there is normally very little information on how the business is actually delivering on longer term strategic initiatives. The future of the business lies in delivering these strategic initiatives that will ultimately turn into greater revenue and market share. But in most cases the board is purposefully excluded from such operational issues. Big mistake since this is the future of the company.
I am assuming, and mostly rightly based on experience, that members of the board have considerable experience in executing strategies and delivering strategic initiatives. And this assumption then brings up the uncomfortable question: Just what is the role of the board?
Are they there only to advise on strategy development and to approve overall strategy, or to oversee execution as well? Poor strategy execution is one of the key reasons for business failures, and the firing of CEOs. Why should knowledgable business experts like board members not follow strategy execution closely and provide advice and guidance, especially when execution is failing or critical strategic initiatives are in danger of failing? These are (hopefully) experienced business leaders and not just window dressing.
Time For A Rethink: Board Dashboards
Rather than just digitize an outdated process, the board pack, why not rethink the whole thing? Why not start with the premise that strategy execution is not just the responsibility of the operating executives, but that effective strategy execution and delivery is a key responsibility of the board of directors. And then why not build a digital, visual dashboard with hyperlinked access points for more information to replace the 200-page mind-numbing board pack? And why not make it interactive so board members can share ideas and insights with each other to help the company? A set of board of directors monthly dashboards would also get these busy individuals more engaged in the company and able to spend greater quality time helping the company deliver.
And as long as we are rethinking the board pack, why not have the board reviewing other leading indicators of business health, like culture, employee engagement, involuntary turnover. And why not bring in rising young executives into board meetings to acquaint the board with the next generation of leaders?
There are so many creative ways to get even more from this important group of business leaders and experts. Why saddle them with hundreds of pages to read?
Let’s rethink board processes to unlock even greater value.
Written and Posted by: John R. Childress
Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid
John also writes thriller novels!