Good Board Reports

Annual report

What makes a good board report


A good board report can have some variations of how it is defined. It often depends on the audience. The knowledge and education that an audience has regarding a particular subject can wildly sway the tone and context of a board report. There are several items that are going to be needed in every report and there are several items that need to be left out. It is really the content in the middle that can make or break a report. Each board member will have their own definitions and ideas of what they need to hear. Therefore, a report needs to be adaptable. It should not contain an overwhelming amount of data, but should not be lacking either. A quality report will contain the important information and not too much more than that. 

What is a board report?

A board report, or board of directors report, is a terribly important document for the financial and structural well being of an organization. However, studies demonstrate that many board members are unaware of their company’s full strategy. Without this knowledge, it is next to impossible for them to coherently steer the ship in the same direction as management.

A company’s board of directors is an entity which is responsible for leading the decisions and guiding the direction of the business. In order to accomplish this, the board must be made aware of all pertinent information when performing their duties. Moreover, they must be educated on previous and likely future performances. This education is often shared via a board report. A board report is either a hard or soft copy that is disseminated to the board members prior to each meeting. Typically the design or format of the report aligns with the preferences of the chairperson. 

What makes an effective board report?

A good board report has several components. Most of all, it is easy to follow, content rich, and has a clear direction. By following the steps listed below, anyone can create and execute on a great board report.

  1. Create a logical and structured outline for the report. The board members should be able to easily navigate the document without getting lost. This step is one of the most important when you are formulating your board report structure. It is also vitally important to know who you will be presenting to and keep this in mind when preparing your report. The board members have a job to do and the board report is supplying the information they need to do their job. Some members will want detailed information and some members prefer a quick survey. 
  2. Have a good balance of topics. These topics also need to be relevant for the successes and achievements of the corporation. KPI indicators need to be balanced out with other data. Do not supply superfluous information. Board members do not need to be made aware that the cleaning service has been changed, for example. 
  3. Plan ahead for the meeting. Haphazard and sloppy writing is a clear indication that you were not prepared. If you are relying on others to provide you information for your report, make sure that you set clear deadlines for them to provide you that material. Once your report has been created, make sure that you allow two days to review and edit. Send out your report to the board members at least three days before the meeting. Keep in mind that they are busy people and have limited time to read your report.  
  4. Have relevant answers prepared. Attempt to anticipate the questions that will arise during the board report presentation. Have those answers prepared in advance. A good rule of thumb is to have one question answered on each page of the report. This allows board members to have the answers they are looking for without the need to interrupt and slow the pace of the meeting. 
  5. Have a clear analysis of the concerns. The board report needs to have clear identification of risks, issues, and actions. It should not be a board member’s responsibility to sift through all of the data in order to find any issues or risks. They should be clearly laid out in understandable vernacular. 
  6. Mix visual accompaniments with the report. In order to have your report be engaging and interesting, the usage of tables, graphs, or infographics will be important. These can also aid in the telling of a story that you are presenting. 
  7. Make the report future focused. Do not dwell on recent or previous events. Instead, use the board report as an opportunity to look forward. Use trustworthy and forward facing data. Stay on track with the company’s goals. Is it tracking to meet its financial goals, for example. Or, should the board be concerned about any potential losses or bad news. 
  8. Update the report with a monthly topic. In order to break some of the monotony of the report, include a topical issue and speak to that topic each month. The topic should be informative and it should provide insight for the board members. This could be specific information about another company or product that is not normally spoken of. 
  9. Create an interactive experience for your audience. Make the presentation more enjoyable and give the board members more opportunities to go through the data in their own way. No two people learn or intake data the same way. An interactive experience will alleviate that problem.

What should be avoided in a board report

You have just read over all of the bullet points on what to include in a board report and are now ready to create the perfect report. Before you go diving in, understand that while there are many things that are relevant and important that need to be added to a report, there are also several things that need to be omitted. Board members have sat through many of these meetings in the past and know what they need to hear. There is little room for error. Here are some common errors and items that are best avoided in a board report.

  1. The report is two inches thick. Board members are not impressed by a lengthy report that covers every topic under the sun. In fact, they are probably only interested in a handful of figures. Instead of a large document, parse it down to just a few pages and make the other data available if requested. 
  2. Reports are heavily focused on financial information. Sales and upcoming projects are buried in the back. Yes, financial data are good to have. However, if there was ever a time to condense data, this would be it. Board members are interested in the future of the company. Therefore, spend more time and resources showing them what is upcoming. 
  3. The report is full of dense text and single spaced. Your report needs to be easy to read and navigate. If a picture or a graph can tell the same story, then use that instead. Excel makes it fairly simple to create graphic representations of the data these days. 
  4. There are no bulleted points. The information presented needs to be as user friendly as possible. Bullet points are a great way to list your important information and leave open opportunity to add more information if asked. 
  5. The report has surprises. Board meetings or reports are not the time to bring up surprises to the members. No one in the room will be happy to hear them and it will make the next board report that much more difficult. 
  6. The board is asked to consider items that are beyond their comprehension or understanding. Keep in mind that board members are not experts in all fields. Asking them to go over exceedingly complicated items that require a specific knowledge would not be a positive idea for anyone. 

What do you hope to gain out of the board report?

A good board report will have addressed three main questions of the board members. If board members had access to the report a few days before the meeting, then it would be great to ask them 

  • What they were interested in. You would want to hear what is important to them to avoid wasting time. 
  • What they are concerned about. Are there any causes of anxiety or problems that need to be directly addressed.
  • What they still have questions about. Use the opportunity to clarify any lingering questions. 

This may be a slightly risky approach as the members may not have specific answers if they did not read the report thoroughly. However, if they have read the reports then it will be a great opportunity to skip over unnecessary materials and focus on what is important. 

Creating a great board report is not as daunting as it may seem at first. Consider your audience and their goals. Keep the report as brief as possible while making sure that all relevant points are included. Make sure that you have follow up data and information if it is requested. By following the bulleted tasks that you have read, you should have no problems creating a great report that will be both effective and engaging.