Is your paper really for ‘noting’?

Is your paper really for ‘noting’?

I had a terrific question from a client today that highlighted a common strategic challenge.

How do we use a storyline to create a ‘paper for noting’?

These are papers that aren't asking for a decision but truly updating our audience on a topic. For example, they might do one of these things:

  • confirm that something has been done
  • explain that something is ‘on track'


Adrian was concerned that he didn’t have a ‘so what’, but rather wanted his Board to be aware of a problem so they were ready to hear about his business case in a couple of months’ time.

So, what to do?

I suggested that very rarely are papers truly for noting, but rather for endorsement.

We talked through three different options and landed on asking the Board to endorse the plan to prepare a business case.

Here’s why we made that choice:

Asking them to ‘note’ that we have a problem without any indication of what the team was preparing to do about it seemed lacking.

The team wasn’t ready to deliver a solution, but this option would leave the Board empty handed.

Asking permission to prioritise preparing the business case to find a solution to the problem was unnecessary.

Adrian had full authority, particularly when supported by the Senior Leadership Team, to prepare the business case without asking for permission.

So, we landed on a third path: asking the Board to endorse their plan to prepare a business case.

This strategy prepared the Board about the existence of the problem that required a solution, demonstrated early that the team was taking action and provided clarity around the next steps.

I hope that’s useful and look forward to sending more ideas through next week.

Kind regards,
Davina


PS – If this topic interests you you may also enjoy the Board Papers MasterClass facilitated by my colleague and expert board advisor, Jane Stutchberry. 

Why formatting really matters

Why formatting really matters

You may have noticed that I focus heavily on the substance of our communication potentially at the cost of minutiae.

While I hold to that, I do think formatting matters for emails and other documents as it helps you keep track of your story while simultaneously helping your audience navigate through it.

So, how do we get that balance right?

Here are some simple principles and templates to help both you and your audience to see the hierarchy of your messaging.

Firstly, some principles to help you signal which part of the structure each element of your communication belongs to. In more detail:

  1. Make the ‘so what’ pop off the page using white space and bold
  2. Use bullets and / or numbers to encourage you to break out your points and avoid ‘block shock’
  3. Break up sections that are longer than 3 lines so your audience can ‘see your point’ without working too hard

Secondly, some templates to help embed instructions inside your documents as reminders and also ways to minimise the need to think about process.

  1. Consider setting up some email signatures with instructions and formatting embedded within. Download two examples here that you can copy paste into your own signatures.
  2. Explore using ‘comments' inside your important templates to remind you how to use structure. Download a sample Board Paper template here which you can easily adapt to other forums. Select ‘view markup' to see the comments.

I hope these help and look forward to bringing more ideas to you next week.

Kind regards,
Davina

PS – Don't forget to register for this week's working sessions too. Go to the Session Registrations tab in the main menu to do so.

How to handle ‘background’ in board papers

How to handle ‘background’ in board papers

How often do you see decision making papers that begin with a section for background? And … how often is that background really, really long?

This is a problem on a number of levels, not only because board members and other leaders routinely list ‘too much background' as one of their pet hates.

Some audiences, however, have greatly mixed needs for background which creates some difficulty.

So, what to do?

I am offering five strategies you could employ depending upon your confidence regarding the audience's situation.

Where you are confident that the audience needs a ‘quick refresh' rather than an opportunity to ask questions and discuss the issues, adopt these two strategies:

Strategy #1 – Refer to and link out to any past papers to avoid repetition but still provide new members with access to the relevant history. You might say something like this: In last month's meeting we discussed four potential options for solving problem X (See last month's paper here). This is easily done where you are using an electronic paper system, such as BoardRoom.

Strategy #2 – Include relevant past papers in an appendix. This is useful when you don't have the ability to hyperlink to the past paper.

Where you are not confident that the audience will remember the content (perhaps because the discussion was truncated or you have a highly technical issue that is on the margins of their experience), include the information in the story in one of three ways.

Strategy #1 – Weave the messages into the new story. If reminding them about options discussed earlier, you might go with a deductive structure to allow more room for reasoning. Here are two suggestions.

  • Use a To Be or Not To Be structure to explain the options before making your recommendation, rather than just saying ‘Option B is Best before offering a list of reasons why you are recommending it.
  • Remind them of the problem being solved by merging Houston and To B or Not To B. You can use a Houston structure for your ‘statement', and following with ‘However, Option B is Best' for your comment and then leading into your therefore, implement Option B.


Strategy #2 – Use a Watch Out pattern to include a generous amount of detail on what's been done so far. This is always a useful pattern for when you need to change direction, but where your audience isn't keeping up with you, you may find it useful to be ‘fulsome' in your statement. The comment that allows for ‘risks ahead' can be tweaked in all sorts of ways to allow for necessary changes that you have just identified.

Strategy #3 – Add a section in your grouping to cover off on the ‘background'. This could be done (at least!) two ways:

  • In an Action Jackson story where you are describing how to implement something, start the first section with a message like this: “Become familiar with the options available”. This provides an opportunity for you to then describe the options as the first step in a process.
  • In a Pitch Pattern, weave the information throughout the story as you touch on key topics. If you are referring options, then describe the options in a deductive flow underneath the “We have a great solution” section.


I hope that helps.

Kind regards,
Davina


Related posts …

How to discuss risks with decision makers

How to discuss risks with decision makers

When talking about the risks in a recent Board paper with a Chief Technology Officer for a national retailer, he said something very interesting.

The risks section SHOULD make us feel uncomfortable.

If it does, then we are not only being honest but can be confident that the leadership will trust us.

His view was firmly that if we are ‘gilding the lilly' by only including the positives, then they won’t trust us and neither they should.

He said if we did that we would also let ourselves down.

We would not be demonstrating that we have thought deeply about our recommendation and how we will counter the inevitable risks we will face in delivering on our commitments within it.

If we are honest and highlight the things that are keeping us up at night and can demonstrate how well we have thought them through they will trust us more.

It will also lead to a much more robust discussion with the leaders and lead to a better outcome for the business.

Look at Mary’s example regarding the risks associated with her new talent strategy. It highlights the shift toward a powerful acknowledgement of the risks versus a ‘tick a box’ list of items to be covered.

Old version asserting that ‘all is well’ was also quite process oriented –

We will review the impact and risk associated with implementing the strategy through the agile Quarterly Business Review process.

  1. We are clear on the risks associated with this strategy and have plans to address
  2. We will track outcomes through the agile QBR process

New version with a stronger list of risks to be managed focused properly on the risks themselves while also having a clear point of view –

We have mitigations in place to minimise the risks and ensure our strategy delivers full long-term value

  1. Cementing SLT approval for FY21 and FY22 budget of $X m
  2. Working with leaders to ensure they don’t refuse to move top talent or hold onto sub part talent
  3. Investing in chapter leads so they can drive talent development within chapters

The difference is quite stark, isn't it?

I hope that helps.

Kind regards,
Davina

PS – Will I see you at this week's working sessions? We have some terrific documents to work through. Got to Session Registration on the top menu to register.