Focusing on a good monthly board pack is a task that can be easily pushed down the priority list, but it’s a key part of making sure a board operates effectively as a business looks to grow and scale. A strong pack both helps founders get as much value out of their board as possible, and is also a great opportunity to step back from the day-to-day, reflect on performance and develop company strategy accordingly.
It is up to individual management teams to deliver this in a way that works for the business – they know it best – but there are some recurring themes that we see across our portfolio that are applicable to all businesses.
The board meeting is an opportunity for high level, impactful discussions around topics such as strategy and key issues, so spending that time reading detailed information from slides and covering general updates isn’t the best use of anyone’s time. However, the board members don’t spend every day in the business so need context in order for those discussions to happen.
This is where pre-read materials come in – a more detailed context-setting document sent to the board members, ideally at least a few days before the meeting. This is also a very good opportunity to provoke thought amongst the board and aid discussions on the day, which leads onto the next point…
Specific discussion topics
Explicitly stating topics for discussion focuses the board’s attention on key areas they need to consider prior to the meeting. The board is an invaluable resource so a board pack (or ideally pre-read materials) should facilitate important and productive discussions that ultimately help management make big decisions. To get the most out of a board meeting, it’s important that the key topics are laid out in advance to allow board members to reflect and prepare – a thought through response is going to be much more useful to management than an instant reaction on the day.
It’s common for boards to get into a repetitive mode – with the CEO and CFO presenting what has happened in the last month. The analytics and commentary in the pack should be clear enough for the board to be up to speed at the start of the meeting. Updates should be taken as read – the time is best used to discuss the specific strategic board-level topics.
A good board pack follows a clear structure which is relatively consistent month-on-month. This can be achieved by developing a format specific to the business – mostly data which can be analysed in the context of monthly performance or against budget/forecast. Stand-alone snapshot numbers and KPIs are impossible to interpret for those who don’t live and breathe the business on a daily basis.
The key is to keep the pack clear, logical and simple to understand – and in a form which can evolve over time.
Analyse rather than offload
A good board pack avoids data dumping and provides insight. For example, when reporting all-important KPIs, it’s important to also answer the following questions: what are they showing? What’s caused any changes? What are the potential fixes/how do we continue to improve? Do the “so what?” test when working through the pack to ensure a sufficient level of insight and analysis.
Highlights and lowlights
Starting a board pack by listing a few bullets on the highs and lows for the past month sets the scene for the rest of the pack – it clearly lays out what’s going well and potential areas of concern. A good board pack doesn’t skim over the lows either – many of the key areas of focus for board meetings should be on improving the business.
Maintain a balance across topics
A good board pack covers all the key areas in sufficient detail – but not too much detail. There’s no point in a huge deck peppered with superlatives and selling-messages if cash is getting tight next month. Likewise, going too heavy on the financial section and not discussing key commercial issues doesn’t work either. The pack should be balanced and focused on the issues at hand.
No board pack will be perfect on day one, and will no doubt constantly evolve, but the key is to use the board meeting to help make decisions and improve the business – a great board pack is key in doing so.
Investment Manager, DSW Ventures
About DSW Ventures
DSW Ventures made its first investment in 2018 and is an investor in early-stage scale-up businesses requiring venture funding of more than £250,000, primarily on an EIS basis. It is funded by a growing network of high-net-worth investors. DSW Ventures is a trading style of DSW Venture Capital LLP, part of the Dow Schofield Watts Group.
DSW Ventures is a partner in British Business Investments’ £100m Regional Angels Programme, designed to help reduce regional imbalances in access to early stage equity finance for smaller businesses across the UK. British Business Investments is a wholly-owned commercial subsidiary of the British Business Bank, the UK government’s economic development bank.
Dow Schofield Watts is a UK independent advisory and investment group, headquartered in Warrington, Cheshire and with offices in Manchester, Leeds, Aberdeen, and London.
About British Business Investments
British Business Investments is a commercial subsidiary of the British Business Bank. Its role is to increase the overall supply and diversity of finance – both product and provider – on offer to UK smaller businesses. It does this while providing value for money for UK taxpayers. British Business Investments does not finance small businesses directly, but instead works with the market to provide funding through its delivery partners. These partners offer a range of funding options for small and high-growth businesses across sectors, regions and business stages.