The Art of Writing Effective Board of Director Reports: A Future, Present, Past Narrative

A few years back, a peer saw a copy of a Board of Directors report I submitted as CEO of a company. A Powerpoint presentation accompanied the report, but the report itself had piqued her interest. She specifically wanted to know the reasoning behind the order of topics.

Clarity and precision are paramount when communicating with the Board. The Board is responsible for guiding an organization’s strategic direction, and its decisions are rooted in the information presented. Consequently, the format and order of the reports provided to them should not be an afterthought. Instead, it should narrate a compelling, holistic story of the organization, moving from the future to the present and then reflecting on the past.

The following order seemed obvious to me. I wanted to tell a story with the primary focus on our future. Here are the five points I focused on:

(Note: I am leaving this somewhat generic due to protect the confidentiality of the organization.)

1. Culture: The Bedrock of the Future

Culture is the cornerstone upon which any organization is built. It shapes the vision, values, and long-term aspirations. By beginning a report with culture, we are essentially starting with the future. Culture informs where a company wants to go and what it hopes to achieve. It outlines the north star that guides decisions and actions. By understanding and cultivating the right culture, organizations set themselves up for future success, making it a natural starting point for any narrative.

2. Talent: Present Assets Crafting Tomorrow’s Success

Every company’s future hinges on its talent. The people who come in every day bring the culture to life, innovate, and drive success. Presenting talent next positions them as the present-day architects of tomorrow’s achievements. Talent provides a bridge between the aspirational elements of culture and the concrete aspects of operations. They represent the organization’s commitment to the future and indicate the steps being taken in the present to ensure that the future is bright.

Every time I am asked about the future of an organization, I point to talent – who we have building that future and who we are missing. People are the heart of innovation.

3. Operations: The Engine Running Today

Moving into the operational aspect brings the narrative solidly into the present. This is the heartbeat of the day-to-day, where plans meet execution. By understanding operations, the Board can see how effectively the company is running right now. It answers the question, “How are we currently executing our strategies, and are we set up for success?”

4. Sales: Indicators of Current Market Position

Sales, as a reflection of the organization’s current market position, continues the story of the present. It provides real-time data on how products or services are being received, how well the company is competing, and where there might be opportunities or challenges. In many ways, sales are the culmination of the efforts of culture, talent, and operations.

5. Finances: Reflecting on the Past to Inform the Future

Finances close the report by grounding the narrative in reflecting past decisions and their outcomes. The general financial health, liabilities, and cash flow give a comprehensive view of where the company stands as a result of previous actions. It offers both a look back and a basis for future forecasting.

In essence, this five-point report format tells a cohesive story: We begin by setting the scene with our future aspirations (culture), introduce our main characters and their actions in the present (talent, operations, and sales), and then reflect on how past decisions have shaped the current state (finances). This narrative not only provides a comprehensive view of the organization but also ensures that the Board remains future-focused while being grounded in the realities of the present and lessons from the past.

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