How to prevent information overload for your board members

Ideas 2The directors and senior leaders who make up your board have wide-ranging responsibilities.

They need a good grasp of all the issues – internal and external – that impact your organisation’s performance, direction and decisions. And with limited time to understand the details of all areas of corporate strategy where they need to make decisions, they need to cut through extraneous information and extract essential facts.

Why is information overload a growing challenge?

There are a number of reasons:

  • Many boards face a continuously increasing number of meetings due to ever-growing governance and compliance pressures.
  • These same pressures put corporate decisions under the microscope, with organisations keen to ensure their approach meets regulatory and best practice standards.
  • The pace of change continues to speed up, affecting boards in the same way as everyone else. The demands on businesses need swift, informed and incisive decision-making.

Making informed decisions is a key element of the board director role. But, as an article on boardagenda.com says, ‘the quality of their decision-making is critically dependent on the quality of the information they receive and process’.

The article quotes the US Federal Reserve, which acknowledges that ‘boards of financial services companies can be “overwhelmed by the quantity and complexity of information they receive”’.

So, if this is a recognised challenge, how can you address it among your board? After all, with the regulatory environment growing ever-more pressurised, and the external landscape continuing to evolve, the demands on boards are unlikely to reduce any time soon.

Providing the right information without overload

The positive news is that there are a number of steps boards and those looking after them, like company secretaries, can do to provide the information directors need without contributing to the data mountain.

  • Make sure your board meetings have a clear purpose. This will help to reduce the range of topics directors need information about at any one meeting.
  • Identify any issues that distract from this purpose and put in place measures to tackle them. An immense amount of time is wasted in meetings (find out here what the biggest time-wasters are). Being focused makes the best use of your directors’ time.
  • A disciplined approach to chairing can also keep meetings on track – which, again, helps to limit the range of off-agenda issues discussed. Read our tips for best practice chairing.

Perhaps most importantly of all, make sure your board members are well-prepared for meetings.

This means focusing the information you give them, so they can prioritise the key areas. It means being clear on what is needed in terms of meeting preparation and board packs, and it means ensuring your board members get the information they need in the format they prefer.

Quoted in the boardagenda.com article, Michael Tripp, head of financial services at accountants Mazars said that ‘The information conveyed to the board needs to be focused. There needs to be a hierarchy of what is important’.

Members need to get information in good time, so they have the opportunity to read and digest it before the meeting. Alongside the papers for the upcoming meeting, they need to be able to access any essential supporting information – previous meeting minutes, policies and other corporate documents, for instance.

Minimise the use of jargon, acronyms and complex terminology. Board papers should be accessible to everyone reading them if you want to avoid information overload. If your organisation is an offender here, our Board and Business Meeting Glossary may help. It defines some of the phrases and words most commonly used in business meetings.

Explore a streamlined approach to board pack delivery

Many organisations are recognising the benefits of delivering board papers electronically, enabling instant access to packs and secure delivery direct to members. The best board portals offer a range of access, so directors can choose whether to read papers on- or offline – invaluable for catching up with pre-meeting preparation on the move.

Using technology to support your board pack delivery can help with information overload, by enabling board members to choose when and how they prepare for meetings. It can ensure that essential information is available, without wasting paper printing background material that not all members may need or value.

A user-friendly board portal can make board papers easily accessible and navigable – as well as helping you to meet compliance requirements by creating audit trails of previous meeting notes and decisions.

You can find out more about how board portals can help with the challenge of information overload by reading our Board Portal FAQs. The FAQs document is free, and you can get a copy from our resource library.

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