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Your Most Effective Tool: The Briefing Note

I’m sure we all have a day in our career we can look back on and say: “Wow, that was the worst day of my working life!" My day was June 9, 2017. It was a meeting of our Trustees and everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong. Information in the meeting package was missing or incorrect; there were typos; not enough research and analysis was done to prepare; new pieces of paper were being walked into the meeting on the fly; and our decision-makers had no understanding of what we were actually asking them to do. It was 6 ½ hours of pure frustration and total chaos. At the end of that meeting I vowed I would never have THAT day again. There are a number of strategies we have employed since that day. For example, immediately following each meeting the team debriefs, captures all of the action items, and identifies who will do what by when. We also have a full review of the meeting package in advance. But the single most effective tool we have employed is the Briefing Note.

Every benefit plan has decision-makers – a board, a committee, a management team. What I learned (the hard way) is presenting information in a clear, concise, consistent way is the recipe to support decision-makers.

We now put a briefing note on everything! Every item presented to committees, stakeholders, decision-makers, and senior leadership starts with a briefing note. Each briefing note is identified as an information item or a decision item.

Here is the briefing note format that we follow:


Prepared by: Name, telephone

Date Prepared:

Date Last Updated:



  • Identify for the reader whether you are presenting information or asking for a decision.


  • A 50 to 150 word description of the issue or situation. Try to keep it to 2 sentences.


  • 1 sentence about the recommendation you are making to your decision maker. If you are presenting information, you can delete the recommendation section.


  • 2 to 3 of the most important points you need your decision makers to know. Hint: I often do this part last!


  • Provide background information in a logical sequence (chronologically, in order of importance, or any other way that best informs the reader).
  • Only include background information pertinent to the issue, with as much detail as the target reader needs.


  • Include an objective analysis of the issue, outlining both positive and negative aspects.
  • Provide options and explore key considerations that will inform the recommendation section.


  • State if the information can be shared and with whom.


  • Include a list of any additional supporting information you are attaching and whether it is required or optional reading.

My next best piece of advice is: know your audience. Consider how much detail might be too much. Avoid taking your audience down a rabbit hole. And, you have heard me say this before, explain it so your Grandma can understand it.

Now, I know what you are thinking… this seems like a lot of work! And you are right, it is work. But I promise you it is work that will pay off over and over again. The briefing note will support your thought process, document key decisions (making things like meeting minutes much less onerous), and you will refer back to your brief over and over again. You can also re-purpose your briefing note by making a few adjustments if it is moving from one audience to another. Most importantly, you will ensure your stakeholders have what they need to make an informed decision. It's magic! And now every meeting feels like the best day of my life (too much?).

I will conclude with a quote from Abraham Lincoln, “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer.”

Wishing you the best day at work every day,


Alana Shearer-Kleefeld is Director of Employee Benefits at 3sHealth and Volunteer Content Creator for CPBI Saskatchewan.

CLICK HERE to learn more about CPBI Saskatchewan!

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