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The problem of director onboarding

January 6, 2016
Borderless Leadership

Don’t stumble at the starting line; have a good process instead.

By Michael G. Daigneault, CCD, CUES

A professional runner preparing for the start on the start line. When nearly 50 percent of our clients tell us that they are less than effective at doing something that is central to their ultimate success, we sit up and take notice.

Such is the case among our credit union clients about their new board member orientation programs. I wouldn’t call this a little problem with a lowercase “p,” but rather a big problem with a capital “P.”

Ask yourselves this question: Would you place your own new board member orientation program in that same “Problem” category? If so, it’s time you sit up, take notice and get moving.

Here’s why:
Director onboarding is a hard job that’s getting harder every day. You know more than anyone else the challenges that you face as a credit union board member. The regulations are growing; balance sheets have become more complex; and the legal and fiduciary responsibilities that directors bear are significant. There is a lot at stake. You need new colleagues on your board who are “at the ready” from day one.

The competition for good board members is growing. There is a constant need for skilled and competent directors, and they are becoming harder and harder to find. In particular, the demand for young, energetic board members is among the loudest drum-beats we hear. As Baby Boomers continue to retire and as Generation X is a relatively small group, the gap between the number of needed and potential board members will continue to grow. Your onboarding program needs to be engaging to successfully recruit new and future board members. It’s your first opportunity to demonstrate what it will ultimately be like for new directors to serve with and for your credit union, and the last thing you want to do is to stumble at the starting line.

Anytime you have even one new board member, you have a new board. The addition of one new director can change the dynamic of your entire board. The key objectives of an effective orientation program should include formal and informal elements: 1) building rapport and camaraderie; 2) fostering inclusion; 3) sharing and discussing assumptions about how the board governs, operates and works; and 4) transferring information about the established direction, expected outcomes, core values, and traditions of your credit union’s culture.

This is particularly important for credit unions that, for the most part, haven’t instituted term limits. We have some clients that will be facing the wholesale turnover of the board in a few years. What happens then? If even one new director translates to a new board, what do two, three or even four new board members mean? An effective onboarding program can be your lifeline for continuity of practice and effectiveness.

Interestingly, onboarding starts before the election and continues once a new director is chosen. You can read more about concrete success steps to take in this regard in my two recent columns, “Good Governance: Start Director Onboarding Pre-Election” and “Good Governance: Director Onboarding Post Election.”

Michael Daigneault, CCD, is CEO of CUES strategic provider Quantum Governance L3C, Vienna, Va., and has more than 30 years of experience in the field of governance, management, strategy, planning and facilitation. With more than 40 percent of Quantum Governance’s engagements being with credit unions, the organization fields more engagements in the credit union community than in any other. Daigneault served as an executive in residence at CUES Governance Leadership Institute at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

Source: CUES

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