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Archive for board papers

How to write recommendations in board papers

By Mary Morel | April 2016

How to write board paper recommendations

There are two aspects to writing board paper recommendations: what you say and how you say it, i.e. styles.

Content of board paper recommendations

Most organisations have two types of papers – decision and noting (information). Some have discussion papers as well, and they are similar to a noting paper.

Decision recommendations in board papers
In a decision paper, your recommendation must outline clearly and concisely what approval you are seeking and how much it will cost. Specific, stand-alone recommendations can then easily be turned into resolutions in the minutes with minimal word changes.

That the Board approve $X for Y project.

Most recommendations are single sentences, but there is no reason why your recommendation shouldn’t be longer if necessary. Better to have two or three sentences than an unwieldy sentence crammed with information.

When there is more than one recommendation, they are either written as separate statements or as bulleted or numbered points. The rationale for separate statements is that stand-alone recommendations can be used in different contexts.

If the recommendations are appearing only in the board paper, bulleting or numbering is simpler. Bulleted lists look cleaner than numbered lists, but the rationale for numbering is that points can be referred back to more easily.

Occasionally, you may have a suite of recommendations (e.g. energy tariffs), so you may decide to reference them rather than put them all in the recommendation. If you do reference them you must be specific (e.g. title and page number) and not make a generic statement such as ‘approve the recommendations outlined in this paper’.

You can have noting recommendations in a decision paper to draw directors’ attention to some information, but in my opinion they are unnecessary. If directors are making a decision, they must read everything thoroughly and the key points should be highlighted in the summary. (All board papers should have a summary.)

Noting recommendations in board papers
Some organisations have a separate template for noting (information) and others have a one-size-fits-all template. If your organisation has a separate noting template, there is no need for a recommendation because it is obvious that the paper is for noting.

With a one-size-fits-all template, keep your recommendation short or you will repeat information that is in the summary.

That the Board/Committee note this paper.

Styles for recommendations

When thinking about styles, you need to consider your introductory stem statement and the verbs to use.

Stem statement
Start your recommendation with the stem statement:

 That the Board/Committee…

An alternative stem statement is: It is recommended that the Board/Committee…

The main verbs used in recommendations are:

  • Approve
  • Endorse (often used by board committees who don’t have the authority to approve a decision)
  • Note

Occasionally, you may use:

  • Ratify
  • Authorise
  • Delegate

Some organisations use the phrase ‘resolve to approve’, but ‘resolve’ is unnecessary.

Plural or singular verbs
You need to decide whether to use singular or plural verbs. If you use plural verbs, you’re using the mandative subjunctive (God save the Queen), and if you choose singular verbs, you’re treating the board as a singular entity. Both are correct, but consistency matters.

I have written a blog about this topic.

Seek help from the company secretariat team
If you work in an organisation that has a company secretariat team, consult with them if you’re having difficulty writing a recommendation. They are usually experts in writing recommendations.

Why I don’t like purpose statements in board papers

Purpose Green Road Sign with dramatic clouds and sky.

By Mary Morel | 16 November 2015

I am not a fan of purpose statements in board papers because they are unnecessary and cover information that is not strictly speaking a purpose.

With a noting (information) paper, it is obvious the purpose of the paper is to inform. With a decision paper, the directors know that an approval is being sought and they learn what the writer wants in the recommendation (sometimes called draft resolution).

The cleanest templates have no purpose statements, but when templates do have a compulsory purpose statement, it is a section that writers use poorly and inconsistently. This is partly because there is no universal agreement about what a purpose statement is.

I have seen the following four uses of purpose statements – often within the same board pack.

1. The purpose mirrors the recommendation
This is the conventional use of the purpose statement that was used when the common convention in board papers was to have a purpose at the beginning and a recommendation at the end. This was problematic because writers seldom checked to make sure they were stating the same information in both places. Sometimes key information would be stated in the purpose and omitted from the recommendation. Occasionally, the purpose and recommendation would contradict each other.

Increasingly today, recommendations are the top of a board paper, which makes this type of purpose statement redundant. However, it is still sometimes retained.

Purpose: To seek approval for a five-year contract for X for $Y.

Recommendation: That the Board approve a five-year contract for X for $Y.

2. The purpose statement gives the reason for the board paper
Some organisations use the purpose statement for writers to state why the paper is going to the board.

For instance, it may be a regulatory requirement that the directors view a policy, or a reminder to the directors that they requested an update on a topic. The rationale in one organisation I worked for was that papers were going to the board unnecessarily and the purpose statement’s aim was to make writers re-assess the need for a board paper.

If that is the rationale for the purpose statement, maybe the wording should be more specific, for example, ‘Why the board is receiving this paper’. In practice, I have seldom seen this type of purpose statement used well. Maybe the decision about whether a board paper is necessary should be made before the template is reached for.

3. The purpose statement provides a summary of the paper
Some organisation’s guidelines include the following advice on how to write a purpose statement: ‘Write a brief summary of the key points to be covered in the paper.’ If that’s what the writer is expected to do, why not rename the purpose statement ‘summary’ or ‘key points’?

4. The purpose statement contextualises the paper
I have even seen purpose statements used to provide some background information about the topic or the recommendation. That may be useful, but is it a purpose statement? Such information fits more logically under a section called ‘Background’.

My suggestion: Scrap purpose statements and use more specific headings that writers understand and will use better.