How To Upgrade Your Onboarding Process For New Board Members

31 August, 2021
Blog | Board Management
Article by: Rasmus Hallgren

The success of your organisation depends on how well the people in your boardroom collaborate. And this is determined by your onboarding process for new board members. It must be as smooth as possible and designed in such a way as to allow a new board member to flourish quickly. But it must also ensure they are best placed to integrate well with the existing directors.

Professor Didier Cossin of the Institute for Management Development (IMD) Global Board Center says:

 “Onboarding is supported by a comprehensive strategy that focuses on facilitating the fit between the company and new directors to ensure their successful incorporation into the organisation. In doing so, it facilitates the smooth operation of the board and its evolution.”

The process of onboarding requires the transmission of a huge amount of information in a short amount of time to fully prepare the director for their role on the board.

This article explains the importance of an effective onboarding program and how to design a process that is successful for the board member and the business alike.

Why Onboarding Matters So Much

In general, onboarding is important for ensuring new recruits have the tools they need to complete their tasks to the best of their abilities. However, the process of onboarding board members differs greatly from similar processes in the organisation.

The board only meets a few times a year, so there is no time for ‘settling in’; the new director needs to hit the ground running in a dynamic environment where pressure is a given. They have relatively few opportunities to make an impact and, with the composition of the board changing on an annual basis, they need to make that impact as soon as possible.

If a director is appointed to fill a competency gap on the board, onboarding them quickly and effectively means they can help close that gap quickly. A swift and thorough process also settles them into their new role and relieves anxiety. They feel fully prepared and included which facilitates a collaborative atmosphere.

Steps to Successful Onboarding of New Board Members

1. Appoint a Leader

You should work out whether you want a single person or an entire committee to oversee onboarding, or if you see it more as a collaborative effort. Whatever you choose, the process needs to be monitored to ensure the new director receives all of the information and support they need.

Often the board leader or chair of the board will work with the nominating committee and the board secretary will manage everything from the recruitment process to onboarding. A best practice is to have at least two current board members leading the process, with input from other key members as well.

2. Create a Welcome Pack

A welcome pack will make your process more structured while helping the new recruit understand the board, the company and the industry better. This board handbook allows them to understand the current situation, the expected playing field in the future and the current strategy employed to meet goals and manage risks going forward.

Items to add to your board welcome pack include:

  • an overview of the strategic plan
  • financial reports, budgets and projections
  • the expectations of board members
  • list of committees
  • director biographies
  • the company bylaws
  • board corporate governance guidelines
  • forms relating to policies on whistleblowing, confidentiality and conflicts of interest
  • recent board meeting minutes and other board materials
  • company and sector risk profiles
  • information on investor relations, including feedback, analyst reports and perceptions.

3. Publicly Announce Your New Board Member

By issuing a press release and other public statements to welcome your new board member, you show them that they are valued and that you are proud to have them join the team. But, more than that, it’s a statement that you are proactive about board improvement which equals good publicity.

Send press releases to local and industry press sources, announce the event on your website and social media.

4. Organise an Informal Welcome Event

You need the new board member to fire on all cylinders as soon as they join their first board meeting. This is much easier to achieve if they have already broken the ice with key directors and had the chance to converse in an informal setting beforehand.

Meeting new colleagues before they begin working together gives them the chance to make connections that will help them get up to speed with life in board meetings. They will feel more confident contributing and debating with colleagues they have already interacted with.

5. Schedule a Meeting With the CEO

Meeting with the CEO as well as other notable individuals such as the board chair, the CFO and the company secretary, plays a key role in preparing a new board member for their position. It gives them one-to-one time to understand their colleagues’ expectations and styles before attending the first meeting.

This also allows them to ask any questions they may have to help them assimilate the information they have been given.

6. Explain Performance Expectations

Performance expectations are a major facet of board culture. They set out what directors should bear in mind and strive for during their entire tenure.

This might include expectations to:

  • be an ambassador for the business
  • contribute to group processes like meetings and evaluations
  • commit to personal development
  • perform acts of leadership even away from board and committee meetings, e.g., supporting the company’s charitable efforts.

The expectations will vary from board to board. However, you should ensure that the new director understands your board’s values before they begin. This is your opportunity to communicate your board culture.

7. Explain Goals and Objectives

Setting goals and objectives early on for a new board member gives them something concrete to work towards and provides a road map that they can use to ease themselves into life on the board. Having a clear understanding of the business’ priorities allows them to make meaningful contributions to the board, based on their role and responsibilities.

8. Assign a Mentor

Assigning a mentor or ‘board buddy’ to a new director will help them make the most of their first board meetings. It will also help them feel more certain about contributing to the discussion.

A mentor should meet with the new recruit on a one-to-one basis and keep them in the loop with the current developments on the board. Touching base before the meeting allows the mentor to give advice and answer any questions the new member might have, based on their experience with the board. A post-meeting debrief is also invaluable for helping the new director understand how they can improve their performance before the next meeting.

9. Consider Skills Development Programmes

You might have selected a candidate because of their formidable knowledge in one area of governance, business, and so on. However, this does not mean that they are as skilled in all aspects. Helping a new recruit expand their skill set allows them to take on more easily the challenges of being on a board.

Also, think about the technology board members use and provide the necessary training to the new recruit. This could be anything from software for the digital boardroom to tools and procedures for remote governance.

Tips For New Board Members

The onboarding process works both ways. It’s not just for the board to ease the path for the new member. The director should also take it upon themselves to make the transition as smooth as possible in order to become an effective board member. Here are some tips to make life easier on the board:

Listen
  • Understand the tone of the conversation in meetings and try to match that.
  • Work out how decisions are made and bear that in mind for future discussions.
Expectations
  • Be clear on the expectations and goals you have been set by the board. Ask if you don’t understand something.
  • Also, understand the basics of your role. For example, are you expected to cover your own travel and accommodation for meetings? Are there any events that you are expected to attend? Knowing these details in advance allows you to concentrate fully on your contribution.
Learn
  • Read through previous minutes to understand what processes took place to reach decisions.
  • Understand the company’s current financial state and forecasts.
  • Research the industry and sector if you are not already familiar.
Ask
  • When you have one-to-one time with the executive director, make the most of the opportunity to ask them everything you can that is relevant to the role. This is your chance to tap into their experience.
  • Ask your mentor for advice ahead of meetings and feedback afterwards so you can improve your performance.
  • If you don’t understand something, ask a fellow board member. Everyone around the table wants the best for the business and they will be willing to help you achieve that goal.
Develop
  • There are numerous opportunities on boards to develop your skills, so make sure you look out for development programmes to join. This helps you improve as a director.

Tips on Onboarding For Board Leadership

  • Constantly refine your onboarding process based on feedback from new directors and make it a discussion point in your annual board evaluations. Listen to their experiences and make the necessary adjustments to help you onboard the next new member more easily.
  • Encourage your new directors to attend committee meetings and calls. This allows them to learn more quickly about the various issues that the board is involved with. It also provides them with the information they need to make informed voting decisions.
  • Arrange meetings between the new director and an external consultant to help them settle in their new work routine. This might not be relevant in every case but, for specific roles, such as those on the compensation committee, seeking outside advice can shape the director’s approach.

How Technology Can Speed Up Onboarding

Using technology, you can evaluate and benchmark new members of the board and track their progress. Boardclic’s online board evaluation platform helps you uncover the strengths and weaknesses of your board, understand the dynamics and set action points accordingly. This means that you can see where board members have differences and what the new directors need to do in order to succeed.

By evaluating the board as it stands when you onboard new directors, you can more easily see how your company is growing as a result of these additions to the team.

FAQ

What should be included in a board orientation?

The board orientation should involve all the materials and resources necessary to bring the new board member up to speed on where the company is, what it stands for and how the board works to drive it forward. Part of the orientation session should also involve talking to current members, including those in senior roles, to offer new board directors the best possible support before they get started.

What should a new board member do?

A new board member should attempt to learn as much as they can about the role, the board, the organisation and its mission. They need to conduct their research, too. While the board does all it can to facilitate onboarding, the director has to take responsibility for entering their new role as well-prepared as possible.

Conclusion

There simply isn’t time for a honeymoon period when it comes to onboarding new board members. Yet, new directors must be well-placed so they can make an impact and contribute fully to discussions straight away.

Once you lay the groundwork for the support the new member will need, the process should run smoothly. But it does not stop there. You should monitor their progress constantly through tools like board evaluations and C-Suite evaluations.

References and Further Reading