It is vitally important to get the board report right because this is that informs directors of the current and forecasted performance. So, you must make sure it contains everything the board need to know, in a clear and concise format. As the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) rightfully notes,
“In order to make the right decisions, directors must base them on good-quality, timely information on how their businesses are performing. The quality of performance reporting to boards is therefore one of the key factors affecting companies’ competitiveness.”
Consultancy firm McKinsey has confirmed this in a 2016 survey of corporate directors. The responses indicated that only 22% of boards completely understood their companies’ strategies, with just 36% completely understanding their firms’ financial position. When a board does not fully grasp these key requirements, it can affect the effectiveness of their decision making. One way to avoid this pitfall is to craft well-written, clear and informative board reports.
For these reasons developing the best board report possible is an important skill, which, fortunately, you can learn and master. Below, we have described the steps you should take to write board reports effectively.
What is a Board Report?
Put very simply, a board report (sometimes known as board papers) is a document you send to the members of the board before a board meeting, detailing the important information they need to know. Part of the board pack, the board report is a reference document that complements the board agenda and the meeting minutes. The chair, CEO or CFO usually decide on the format and content of the report, with help from the committee members and the secretary, too.
This document pulls together information from the various committee reports and departments and presents them in a manner which makes it easy for the board to digest. The report usually contains information on financial and management performance as well as expected future performance.
The Purpose of Board Reports
Board reports exist to facilitate decision making in board meetings. The members need to know all the relevant details about past and projected future performance in order to make informed decisions on the future of the business. The board report should collect together any relevant information relating to the topics up for discussion in the next board meeting.
One of the key purposes of a board report is to answer the questions that directors will ask as they digest the information on display. You must preempt the information that they desire in order to fully understand where the company stands and where it is going. The board report should present the data along with a summary of the key takeaways from that information. The idea is that directors do not have to spend ages mining into the statistics in order to discover the relevant talking points for the meeting.
Board Report Structure
The board report can range in size from a sheet or two to a whole pamphlet. It depends on the report at hand, which may be a short monthly update on a certain committee or a full year’s overview of the whole business. Whatever the size of the report, it should be easy to read and broken up with headers, bullet points, graphs, tables and images. If it is simply a wall of text, this will make it very difficult for the reader to digest the important points.
Generally, the structure of a board report should be the following:
- Title that tells the reader exactly what to expect.
- Table of contents (if the report is lengthy).
- Introduction to give a clear indication of what is in the report.
- Clear headings to flag up the themes of that section and to allow directors to skip straight to the relevant areas.
- Bullet-pointed key performance indicators (KPIs) so they stand out to the reader.
- Summary to analyse the findings of the report.
Content of the Board Report
The aim of the report guides the content. If you are presenting a situation report, it will read in a completely different way from a report that wants the board to consider acquiring new resources or even a change of strategy.
Provide relevant data to back up the report and explain why it is relevant or meaningful. Look to represent both the positives and negatives. Remember, the board needs to be well informed in order to make the best decisions in the interests of the company. If you only show the positive sides of the performance of a new factory rather than acknowledging the challenges, for example, that can skew the executive board’s understanding of the running of the business.
Board members are busy people, so ensure you get straight to the point and summarise any external sources that you use to allow them to find the pertinent information quickly.
Download Board Report Template + Samples
How to Write a Good Board Report: Tips
Here are the key points you need to consider when writing a good board report in general:
- Know your audience
You know your board members and their background. This means you can judge how much explanation certain points need in the report. If everyone knows the basics of a certain aspect of the business, you do not need to take up their time explaining it to them. Similarly, you know the information that they require, so don’t waste text adding in metrics that have no bearing on the decisions they have to make.
- Use plain language
One of the main reasons for having a board report is to provide a quick reference point to bring members up to speed. Don’t slow down the process by using complicated or technical language. Board members need to be able to digest the details quickly.
- Use a mixture of metrics to give context
The financials are the metrics most often associated with the board report, but on their own they don’t tell the whole story. You need to balance them with details such as market share to give them context. If the profit is going up, but the market share is slipping, the board needs to know. Giving just the profit information suggests all is going well, but showing the whole picture offers insight into potential problems that they can address.
- Provide full disclosure, both good and bad
The board needs to know the real state of the business, not the rose-tinted version. They must make key decisions based on the information provided, so tell them exactly how it is. No one likes passing on bad news, but you should do that if necessary. Tell them about internal and external pressures that face the business and help them make the best decisions possible.
- Help them find the crucial information
The board report is not a place to hide things away. Make sure you highlight the most important information in graphs, tables, headings, bullet points or any other way that will make it leap off the page.
- Provide clear analysis
It is no good just providing raw data. You need to explain it, too. What are the current issues and risks at play? Spelling it out in analysis means busy board members do not have to take a deep dive themselves.
- Look forwards as well as back
Yes, the board needs to know how the business has performed. But they also need to know what the future looks like using credible data. Are you set to meet targets? If not, the earlier the board knows, the sooner they can intervene and change course.
- Keep KPIs in a dashboard
A dashboard is a great way to visualise KPIs so that the board can track them at a glance. This also means you don’t need to go into long-winded explanations about the results. You can simply head straight into the analysis, saving the reader time.
- Use board management software
Using board management software cuts the cost of sending out physical reports, which might have to be re-sent if anything needs updating. It also means each board member has access to the most recent version when they log into the app on their computer, tablet or smartphone. They can also interact with you and each other, leaving comments, notes and other handy collaborative material. Last but not least, it is easy to search the program for the information they want to find.
Writing a Report for a New Board
If you are writing a board report for the company for the first time, it is a good idea to use previous reports as a template. This gives you an idea of what the board is used to and what they need from the document.
What should a CEO report to the board?
The CEO should report to the board on anything that the board has set or approved to help keep the board accountable for its decisions. This could be policies, strategies or plans that the board has had a say on in the past.
Who can sign the board report?
The board must approve the board report and then it should be signed on their behalf by either an executive director or the secretary.
How do you present financials to a board of directors?
There are a number of different ways to present financial statements to the board of directors, depending on the nature of the business and where you are in the financial year. Here are some examples:
|Type of Report||What it Involves|
|Simple Statement||When a company has tight controls over its financial affairs, sometimes all that needs to be created is a simple statement to the effect that the business is doing well. Board members will usually accept this occasional manner of reporting if they know they can easily request in-depth records if they desire.|
|Detailed Report||Contains all the vital financial information, including profit and loss statements, balance sheets and more. Some boards require this at every meeting, some ask for it annually.|
|Balance Report||A statement of how much the company has in its bank account, often with details of contributing factors to why it is higher or lower than expected. More often used in small companies.|
|Periodic Performance Report||Comparison of income, expenses and changes in balance since the last meeting. Also includes reasons for the performance.|
A board report is a key tool in helping the board take vital business decisions to keep the company heading in the right direction. It requires skill to know exactly what information is necessary and how to present it in a way that is most simple and effective for the board members ahead of their next meeting. Board meeting software, such as iBabs, allows members to pick up the report digitally, meaning they don’t have to transport reams of paper, which saves money, is better for the environment and is much more convenient.