The Silent Killer of Portfolio Company Growth

by | Jan 12, 2021


That’s the record.

The most # of pages in a board deck for a board meeting I’ve been in. It was a real whopper. The War and Peace of board decks.

AP LI Creative Board Members Be Like

I actually averaged the board decks for the last 10 meetings I was in (because I’m nerdy like that), and they average 64 pages in length.

But somewhere along the way, some management teams adopt this way of thinking that longer & more complex = better.

The belief that more—more data, more growth avenues, more pages, etc.—is better. 

And I get it.

Businesses are complex, and a thorough board deck not only conveys the complexity, but inspires the board’s confidence that a management team has its arms around these complexities. And surely, effective boards must understand and grapple with the complexity that a dynamic and quickly-changing business environment introduces.

But it’s when “complex” becomes “complicated”—a tipping point that can become easy to surpass—that it can lead leadership teams and their boards down a slippery slope.

Complexity of this sort—the “complicated” kind—can become the silent killer of growth.

A 2017 Bain & Company study shows that only 1 in 9 companies grows sustainably… and that 85% of companies that fail to grow sustainably do so because of organizational and internal complexity.

When we break this down, it makes sense. See, when things become complicated, complexity can hinder:

Understanding. Like the RAM on your computer, your employees’ brains can only process so much at one time. They can only hold and interrelate so much information at one time. The more stuff—board deck pages, strategies, tasks, information—the more likely that it triggers the cognitive equivalent of the “blue screen of death” (something commonly referred to as information overload).

Clarity. Clarity is essential to a team’s ability to execute the right things effectively. It is critical to a board’s ability to understand and focus on the key issues. Complexity is the evil cousin of clarity.

Alignment. Between a board and a leadership team. Among that leadership team. And within a company. Without understanding & clarity, it is impossible for alignment to happen.

Add it all up, and complexity can make it really difficult for boards, leadership teams, and organizations to get and stay in-sync.

Consequently, it makes it tough to grow. And growth is what pays the bills for growth-stage investors like you and me.

Recognizing this, my compatriots at Alpine Investors and I created a method that pushes teams to distill their vision, strategy, plan down to 1… single… page (an idea we borrowed from some of the trailblazers in the “one page plan” movement).

1 sheet of 8.5 x 11 paper.  

One Page Plan


The idea is that if, as an executive team, you can’t articulate your vision, strategy, and priorities on a single sheet, then:

You probably don’t have a clear-minded view of it

Your team is likely to get lost in the fog of complexity, making it difficult for the most important growth priorities to get executed reliably

Your board will have no idea what matters most, and therefore, where to focus and how to best support growth

As this 1-pager practice took hold in Alpine’s portfolio companies, it totally changed the game. It brought understanding & clarity, and created the conditions for alignment to happen—both at a board level, and within the company.

This, of course, isn’t to say that that the other 63 pages of a board deck aren’t important. Its not to say that this single-sheet approach is sufficient in itself. But this isn’t about page count. Its about:

✅ Ensuring a board and management alike can see the forest thru the trees. That it has a clear birds-eye view. (Which a 1-page plan can enable.)

✅ Ensuring everyone around the table has a clear-minded view of the essentials of your vision, strategy, and plan. (Which a 1-page plan provides.)

✅ Focusing disproportionate time as a board on the small set of questions that matter most to long-term performance. (Which a 1-page plan forces.)

Could this be useful to bringing greater focus to your board conversations?

Interested in learning more about how this approach can help leadership teams and boards get better aligned, and focus on what matters most?

Check out this free workshop we put together.

Getting Onto the Same Page Workshop

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