Blog articles

Setting deadlines for board papers that work

Last week I blogged about negotiating deadline extensions if you are unable to meet deadlines set by other people.  But one issue that comes up time and time again during mentoring and coaching sessions is “how do I ensure that the Board pack goes out on time without a late night in the office?”.  A key element of this is of course setting deadlines that your executive team respect and meet.  On this one I admit I do not have a magic solution, but here are a few suggestions:-

  • Get support from the Chair. If he or she is willing to back you up so that if authors do not meet your deadline their paper is pulled from the board agenda then not many are willing to risk that.  Without this consistent support from the Chair, things get a bit more tricky, but not impossible!
  • Make your deadlines clear and known well in advance. If you have good relationships with the executive team personal assistants, ask them to diarise the deadlines and to allocate time for their boss to write the paper if possible.  If you don’t have good relationships with personal assistants, develop them!
  • Deadlines will inevitably appear to be too far in advance of the board meeting because paper authors do not appreciate what checks, comments, formatting, labelling etc have to take place before the paper is ready for despatch, and how long this takes. Educate them about the value you add at this point and how long it takes.  But also best to resist the temptation to set really ‘baggy’ deadlines because this will not encourage respect for the deadline.
  • Meet everyone else’s deadlines (see my blog last week).
  • Set a deadline for close of play on the day before you plan to work on the papers rather than the day itself. This allows an overnight buffer for those paper authors who can’t write until the last minute.
  • Encourage paper authors to let you know as soon as possible if they are not going to meet your deadline. Be willing to negotiate with them – e.g. can you see an early draft so you can comment simultaneously or can they complete all the formatting, numbering etc for you so the paper is ready to go when it arrives?
  • Enforce the use of paper templates so all papers arrive almost ready to go, subject to sense and content checking.

If you have a fail safe way of setting board paper deadlines that everyone respects please do share them – I know there are lots of Governance Professionals who would love to know how you do it!

LinkedIn article 25/1/19

Negotiating Deadline Extensions

Sometimes, despite having my time management strategies in place and having tackled my procrastination, I still find myself unable to meet a deadline.  At times there just are not enough hours in the day.  When this happens I need to be able to negotiate an extension in a way that does not negatively impact on my work reputation.  As a Governance Professional I think this is crucial – how can I expect others to take my deadlines seriously if I do not treat theirs with respect?

These are the things that work for me:-

  • I try to identify if I need an extension as early as I can using the techniques outlined in my blog of 11 January 2019. I know my colleague waiting for the piece of work will really appreciate early warning.  Think about how much easier it is to manage if you are told in good time that a board paper is going to be late versus the disruption caused when it simply doesn’t arrive or you get a last minute phone call.
  • I try to have some goodwill in the bank. I am a firm believer that you reap what you sow.  If I had been inflexible and unhelpful I am likely to get the same back when I need an extension to a deadline.  If I have been helpful, reasonable and flexible I will have some goodwill in the bank and I never know when I might need it.
  • I try to minimise the number of times I need to ask for a deadline extension.  I think this increases the chances of my requests being looked at sympathetically when I do need to make them.
  • I always apologise for not meeting a deadline and honestly explain why an extension is needed. This helps maintain my professional integrity and relationships.
  • I never assume a deadline extension will be agreed and test the water gently first rather than asking outright. As Governance Professionals know, some deadlines cannot be changed.   If there is no scope for an extension I go back to my to do list to see if there is anything else that I could move to make time to complete the task on time.
  • I tell my colleague when I can complete the task by. Sometimes this involves entering into a negotiation about the new deadline, but to maintain my professional integrity I do not agree to a deadline I cannot meet.  One of the things that can help is offering sight of an early draft.  As a Company Secretary I know that seeing an early draft of a paper gives me the opportunity to comment and input.  This maximise the chances that the final paper will be ready to go once it arrives.
  • Once I have a negotiated a new deadline I meet it. Not meeting a renegotiated deadline is likely to negatively impact on my reputation.

I hope these are helpful ideas.  Do you have any other tips to share?

LinkedIn article 18/1/19

What if there is so much to do I just don’t know what to do first?

I think I am not unusual in sometimes finding myself paralysed with the sheer volume of things to do.  That feeling of when you can’t settle to one job, but keep jumping from one to another and end up finishing nothing.  I have a few tricks I use when this happens.

  • I just do something – anything – even just the first thing on the list. I have to make sure I don’t use this to avoid doing the most important thing which could be problematic or even nasty (I call this my ‘frog’ ) but if they are all equally awful or equally urgent I just do one.
  • I complete a series of quick jobs first so I can tick them off and get a sense of achievement. Again, I have to watch I’m not using this to procrastinate – see eat the frog below.
  • I pick the most important thing and concentrate on it for an hour. There are not many jobs which cannot be significantly advanced with 1 hour of intense concentration.  Moving into part of the office where I won’t be disturbed or closing email really helps (google “email and intermittent reinforcement” if you are interested why).   Doing this tends to rid me of my inertia, makes me feel like I am achieving something and kicks me into action to do the other things on the list.
  • If I recognise I’m procrastinating I “eat the frog”. This means I do the one thing I am really trying to put off first.  If I don’t it will weigh me down all day or all week , or even worse at the weekend , and stop me doing anything else properly.  If I “eat the frog” and get it over with it frees me up to get on with other things.  The relief of having done it is amazing.  In my experience the job is not usually as awful as I think it will be once I get started.

I hope these tips help you as much as they have helped me over the years.  I would love to hear of any further tips you may have to share.

LinkedIn article 11/1/19

Help – there are not enough hours in my day!

Most of us are familiar with this scenario.  You get into the office on a Monday morning.  You know what you need to achieve in the coming week (it’s board paper week) but by the time you’ve walked from your desk to the kitchen to make your first cup of coffee and back to your desk you’ve already had 4 new verbal requests.  Then you check your email – the Chair has been busy over the weekend and suddenly there are lots of other things to do.

How do you ensure that you can achieve them all and still get your board pack out in time?  Time management skills are crucial if you want to be an effective governance professional.

This is what has always worked for me in my career to date.  It is the low tech version, which suits me because it gives me the most flexibility and visual picture, but you could do the same electronically.

  • Firstly I print off my outlook calendar in ‘month view’ for up to 6 months ahead. Of course some of the appointments will change in that period but some things are unlikely to such as Board meetings; your annual leave; the annual leave of your colleagues.  This sheet is for long term planning rather than the detail.  I ensure all the really important key events are marked on this calendar and use it to ensure that I am aware of any potential clashes or impossible weeks where there are too many things happening.  If I spot one of these, I consider whether I can delegate, start working on it in a quiet week, or bring forward or negotiate an extended deadline.  The sooner I know about these the better I can ensure I manage my workload.
  • For the day to day more detailed planning I print out a month’s worth of Outlook Calendar in ‘day views’. Again, I know the appointments already in the calendar might change, and I choose to keep my calendar up to date manually as well as electronically.  This has served me particularly well in the past while my organisation had a flaky IT system.  It means I always have a hard copy of my diary and to do list.  I use pencil to make amendments so they could be rubbed out easily if further changes occur.
  • On this printed sheet there are two spaces on the right hand side – one called “Arrange by Due Date” and one called “Notes”.
  • I use the Arrange by Due Date section for my daily to do list – this is usually the urgent and important items. I start each day with this list and add to it as requests come in e.g.  When I meet someone in the kitchen, or from emails.  If the deadline isn’t for a few days I might add it to tomorrow’s list or for a few days’ time, particularly if the list for the current day list starts to look unrealistic.
  • From the day list I prioritise where possible and then knowing what meetings I have in my diary I allocate time to complete the tasks between meetings. This provides me with a realistic view of how much I can achieve that day.  Ideally I try to block out a lunch break.  A walk out to get a sandwich and some fresh air will significantly help my concentration in the afternoon.
  • If it is clear I cannot do everything I consider whether I can delegate, check the deadline (sometimes there is leeway) and negotiate a new deadline or cancel a non-urgent meeting.
  • At the end of the day, anything that has not been completed can be transferred to the next day’s list. If I end up with having to move something to tomorrow or the next day’s list which had a deadline of today, this is a conscious process.  I ensure that I communicate with the person I am doing the work for about why I am going to be late and can reassure them that it is top of my list for the following day.
  • Of course I might have to work late or go in early to get as close as possible to the deadline but overall my system helps me ensure that such incidents are rarely a surprise and are planned.
  • I use the Notes section for the longer term items which don’t have deadlines and which I can do if I find myself with spare time.  If some items are on this list for a very long time it might be time to question whether they need to be done at all!

This system has worked very well for me for my whole career and I think I can confidently say I have rarely missed a deadline in an unplanned or un-negotiated way and rarely forget to do anything.  As a  governance professional this not only means I am doing the job well, but also builds up a stock pile of good will against which I can draw when I need something last minute from a colleague.

What has worked for you?

Next week I’ll talk about how to handle the situation when there is so much to do you don’t know where to start.

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(article originally published in Governance and Compliance Magazine,

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Having had time to reflect on the ICSA 2017 Conference a clear theme emerges for me – the Company Secretary role is much more than the glorified clerical role it can sometimes be seen as.  This statement will not be a surprise to any of my fellow Company Secretaries, but as we know, the role is still not widely understood and is often overlooked.

To illustrate this point here are some of the things the ICSA Conference speakers this year challenged Company Secretaries to do…

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