HQN Blog: Never mind the quality feel the width

That’s what I think about board papers. The sheer length of them guarantees bad governance. That Andrex puppy would have a field day with agendas that run into hundreds of pages. Why does this never get challenged?

We’ve got limits on how long a board member can stay on for. We’ve got bans on having too many councillors. You even get told how many board members you are allowed. In rugby union you get 15, in league 13 but in housing 12. Who cares? Let’s sort out the thing that really matters.

There seems to be some sort of national competition to bang out the longest set of papers. Sometimes they tip the scales at nearly 1,000 pages. That is your problem right there. That is why important things get missed.

Why did the board not spot the covenant breach? Why didn’t anyone see that the audit report missed the point by a country mile? How come the board member that is a brainbox by day is hopeless by night at the meeting? It’s because no one but no one has the attention span to go through this stuff line by line by never ending line.

There is a smarter way of doing things. Amazon has banned long reports and power point at top meetings. Instead they get short six-page memos that take weeks to craft. These are read in silence then a discussion takes place. I’m not saying Amazon is perfect in all things. But shorter sharper reports are so obviously the right answer that we should follow suit and do the same. I mean we can’t say we are more complicated than Amazon, can we?

Now that the RSH wants you to prove big decisions show “optimal benefit,” you do need better reports. And you need the consultants to do better too. Long Rambling Syd Rumpo reports just don’t cut it.

What’s the old rule? Rubbish in leads to rubbish out!

It’s time to bring an end to macho bladder-busting board meetings fuelled by custard creams. As the old civil service joke put it – I wrote a long report because I didn’t have time to write a short report.

By Alistair McIntosh, HQN Chief Executive