- Posted by Jannice Moore
- On May 14, 2019
- Board Agendas, Information for the board
Have you ever received the agenda package for your board meeting and thought “Oh, no – do I really have to wade through all of this information?” If so, you’re not alone. I think many board members, on receiving the package, feel like they are swimming upstream in a river of paper (or electronic documents). I’ve come to the conclusion that boards need to go on an information diet.
It’s not so much the quantity, as the quality of the information received. Is your information intake highly nutritious, or are there a lot of empty calories?
Let me explain. By empty calories I am referring to information that many boards receive – in fact, which often make up the giant share of the agenda package – that is not actually needed to govern. Things like details about the operations of various departments. Sure, these things might “taste good,” and are even interesting, but they don’t help you govern. In fact, they may even detract from good governance, simply because they distract from the real governance work. They are simply “nice” to know, not “need” to know. However, it’s very easy for much of the board’s precious meeting time to be taken up with discussion about these items, which really are in the CEO’s decision-making realm. When you’ve eaten a lot of sugary food, not only do you run out of room for healthier options, but the sugar sets up a craving for more of the same. So the board keeps asking for more operational details. Meanwhile, when does the real governance get done?
Real governance work is about setting clear organizational direction, thinking strategically about what the organization should be producing in the future. Nutritious information related to this work includes regular scanning of what’s going on in the outside world in which your organization operates. What will the world be like in 5, 10, 15 years? How will your organization fare in that world? What information do you need to help you better understand the possibilities of the future? The board is the one that needs to be scanning the horizon, so your organization remains relevant.
Real governance work is also about protecting the organization from unethical or imprudent behaviour. What policies do you need to set boundaries around the CEO’s choices? Nutritious information here will help you set or amend those boundaries. What are the biggest areas of risk facing the organization? What current trends may produce new areas of risk in the future? What information do you need to monitor to ensure the policies you have in place are being followed?
Consider your board’s agenda, and seriously consider whether an information diet is needed.