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Building Your Board: Best Onboarding Practices

Building Your Board: Best Onboarding Practices

Are your board directors getting as much out of onboarding as they should? It’s never too late to ask your board directors about their opinions of their onboarding experiences. Does your board set up a simple orientation and call it a day? That might be okay, but it’s really not ideal. Onboarding is a process, not an event. Best practices are to provide an orientation, which can be from an hour to a couple of days, and an onboarding process, which should take 30 days to a year.

Your onboarding process should be created specifically for new board directors. The best onboarding practices should include a job description for board directors. If you were interviewing for a job, you’d have a lot of questions because you’d want it to be just as much of a fit for you as it is for them. Companies should ensure that new board directors feel welcomed and appreciated to help them develop a sense of purpose and belonging right from the beginning.

If you haven’t yet, your board should decide who is in charge of caring for the board. It may be the full board, or it may be the nominating committee or executive committee. Part of the committee’s charge should be to empower them to improve the board. The responsibility for recruiting new board directors, orienting them, and onboarding them should be spelled out in the committee’s charter. Committees should be held accountable by the board for the quality of their onboarding program and its results. Annual self-evaluations for this committee should assess whether the committee is fulfilling its commitment in this area.

Why Should There be a Focus on Onboarding?

Joining a new board is much like starting a new job. A Gallup poll reported that only 12% of employees felt that their organization did a  great job onboarding them as a new employee. An onboarding process helps to fill in the gaps of knowledge about governance and prepares new board directors to assume their roles on the board. A good onboarding process is important because it helps board directors get up to speed faster. If they can’t find a way to plug in quickly, they may hold back a bit until they earn some respect and find their place. That doesn’t help the organization of the new board director.

There are also a few emotional reasons to set up a quality onboarding experience for new board directors. It will make them less anxious overall. In addition, an onboarding experience that focuses on team-building sets a tone of inclusiveness and a spirit of working together. These are essential elements in building a healthy board culture.

Best Onboarding Practices for Building a Quality Board

Everything that you try to accomplish on your board should have measurable goals and that includes onboarding.  If your organization doesn’t already have a written process for onboarding, it’s time to review your current process and make plans to improve it. Start with a few goals and determine how you can measure them. The SMART method is always a good resource for establishing goals. Ensure that the goals are clearly stated and achievable. They should also be relative to board director training and time-based, which will give you the ability to measure them.

As with any new relationship, first impressions count. Try to make a new board director’s first day on the board welcoming and memorable.

An onboarding process should initially give a new board director time to get up to speed on what is expected of them. After that, continued onboarding should be an ongoing process.

A good way to ensure that new board directors are getting the training they need is to set them up on an onboarding portal and allow them to begin their training before their first board meetings. As an example of innovation for their employees, Ernst & Young sets up an onboarding portal that offers an online virtual tour of the company. The program gives them the history of the company and other information, and it answers many of the questions that new hires typically ask.

For board directors, if your organization has a board portal system like BoardEffect, the training could include training on how to use the board portal, how to send messages to other board directors, the CEO, and other executives, how to find reports and documents, and explains all the features of the board portal system.

After a few initial onboarding sessions, best practices for onboarding suggest that organizations give their new board directors additional opportunities for education and development.

Bear in mind that onboarding takes time. New board directors will need time to learn how to use the portal efficiently. They’ll need time to read the many reports that the organization has produced to date. Allow them time to get acquainted and acclimated. The more they learn, the more questions they’re apt to have. It’s important that they know who they should ask when questions arise. During the period of onboarding, new directors should be encouraged to be curious. This is important because ensuring they can get all their questions answered early on could prevent board discussions being bogged down and could also prevent newbie mistakes.

Don’t forget that there were certain skills, talents, and abilities that drew your board to appointing board director candidates. Tap into their strengths early on in the process and find a short-term task that allows them to put their skills to work and gives them an early win.

It’s also appropriate and prudent to ask outgoing board directors if they’ll mentor new board directors. This arrangement gives new board directors a designated resource for getting their questions asked. Another way to help to integrate them onto the board is to allow them time to observe one of the stronger board directors. Finally, get some feedback from new board directors about the strengths and weaknesses of your orientation and onboarding programs.

It takes time and effort to ensure that the board has a plan in place to onboard new board directors and to hold them accountable for doing so. Companies that address these issues will reap the benefits in time and efficiency overall.

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