We advise our clients to give careful thought to how they will orient their new board members before they recruit them. Think about the message it sends to the board prospect if, during the recruitment meeting, you are able say: “If you join the board, we will be hosting an orientation in August where you will have an opportunity to learn about…” You are immediately sending the message that your organization has its act together.
In addition to sending the right message to your board candidates, spending time shaping a successful board orientation should help you bring on board members who get up-to-speed quickly and feel engaged right from the very start.
To do this, we suggest the board or your governance committee spend time giving careful consideration to the elements of the orientation process. One easy way to do this is to have the board as a whole, or some subset, consider and respond to the following questions (with the answers captured on flip-chart paper):
- What did you find to be the most valuable or memorable aspect of your own orientation?
- What do you think every new board member needs to know before his or her first board meeting?
- What do you think that every new board member should learn or experience during his or her first 6-12 months on the board?
- What kinds of orientations have you experienced elsewhere that might help us design a successful orientation here?
- As we look at the list we’ve developed, how should we best deliver this information, and who should do it?
More and more, organizations are coming to realize that successful board orientation can’t be done in a single session, and they are considering how they can provide orientation and board training throughout the year (understanding that board members who have been around for a while can often learn some new things too). You might consider the potential of having a two-stage orientation process where the new board members get some initial orientation at the start and then come back in a few months (after a few meetings) to continue their orientation. This might take place in a more casual setting with an opportunity, perhaps over lunch, to talk about what is working, what is not, and consider any questions they might have. Or, perhaps it is a meeting where the agenda is set by asking each new board member, “Now that you’ve been on the board for a few months, what is it that you are still struggling to understand?”
Keep in mind that new board members are a great resource for evaluating your orientation process and helping to shape the next one, so it makes sense to build some kind of evaluation into the process (best done after they’ve been on the board a few months or more).
Ultimately, it is important to tailor the orientation so it is manageable and makes sense for your organization. There is no single right way to conduct an orientation, and trying to adopt someone else’s process would be a mistake. Also realize that it is impossible to cover every topic and prepare board members for every eventuality. The key is identifying what new board members need to know in order to actively participate and become engaged in the work of the board.
You’ll find additional tips on board recruitment and board governance in the Blog section of Starboard’s website: www.starboardleadership.com. Or feel free to get in touch now using the contact form that can be found on our site.