As the prevalence of technology increases, we continue to find new ways to integrate it into our lives. From food and fitness tracking to home security, there is an app for almost everything – including online board books. If your board is not yet using board meeting software for board meetings or you employ a cumbersome process that does not meet the needs of your board, you are not alone. As board members continue to plan to improve the future of the organization, chances are electronic board books hosted on board portals may come up in your discussion.
Before you decide to make the switch from paper to electronic materials, there are some considerations for your board to think through.
Having a board come into the next meeting using iPads and accessing online material requires some work. A successful implementation isn’t solely based on having an intuitive and user-friendly portal or having a board that is familiar with using iPads. It’s about preparation and working with your board to find out what they are comfortable with. It is a combination of nuanced factors that work in tandem that are typically addressed during the initial research and planning phase. While planning and researching the implementation of a portal, we have found that administrators, leadership teams, CEOs, board members, corporate secretaries and anyone else involved with the portal have apprehension around one main question.
Will this work for my board?
To assist in your decision making, we have combined the top 10 challenges that boards face as they begin to implement a board portal and offered our solutions to assist with these challenges.
1. “Our board members won’t use a portal because they aren’t really comfortable using technology.”
Board members who are comfortable with technology will be the early adopters of your group. However, this is not to say that board members that are more reluctant to using technology will not use the product. For some people, it takes time to adjust to using new technology. Also, we’ve found that once the majority of the board is using it, the late adopters realize how much easier a board portal is to use and abandon their paper ways.
2. “We purchased (or built in-house) a great portal that our board didn’t use.”
It’s reminiscent of Field of Dreams when the bodiless voice whispers to Kevin Costner, “Build it and they will come.” Field of Dreams is fictional and so is this idea. Regardless of how amazing another board portal solution can be, it doesn’t guarantee that a board will use it (ours included).
So what can you do to ensure that a portal isn’t a waste of time, money, resources, energy…?
Consider the board’s motivation and assess what they really need. Before researching portal options, we recommend having a discussion with the board to address its current challenges. Questions would include:
- What could we be doing more efficiently and effectively?
- What are the biggest time wasters our board currently has and how can an online system address them?
- What specific goals would a board portal need to meet to be more successful?
Use these answers to measure how well different board portal options could meet the board’s needs. The stronger the alignment between the portal features and the board’s needs, the more likely it is to succeed.
3. “I upload the content the board wants but they never visit the portal.”
In an ideal world, an administrator would upload the content, the board would read it, make informed decisions and the world would be a better place. While this can happen over time this isn’t a process that happens overnight. In addition to having online meeting materials and a shared calendar, board portals by streamlining committee deliberations, board development, strategic planning, staffing and appraising the chief executive position.
A portal provides the board with the opportunity for the board to think and work differently and that kind of human behavior change takes some time. Think of implementing a portal more as a process of turning on a dimmer switch rather than turning a light switch on and off.
As a part of the portal implementation, each part of the governance process should be reviewed to determine what can be streamlined with new software.
For example, let’s say the portal offers online meeting capabilities which can save the organization money on travel costs (and help the environment.) The organization has the opportunity to reconsider which meetings should remain face-to-face and which meetings can be held virtually. Remember that incorporating the right technology tools is also essential to the success of virtual meetings as well. Once a decision is made as to how the governance process will be altered, these changes can be prioritized and phased in the roll-out plan with phase specific training and plans to reinforce best practices. Going with our virtual meeting idea, if our packets are disseminated via iPad, then our first training session with the board should focus on how to launch the iPad app and download meeting materials to the device. This can be reinforced with reminder emails that encourage board members to use the app and acknowledge that they are doing well.
4. “We provided a training session for our board but they still won’t use the portal.”
Yes, providing a training for the board is critical. However, sometimes we find that a single training attempts to encompass too much information in too little time or focuses so heavily on how a particular feature operates that board members are never clearly grounded as to why they should use the feature in the first place.
Before going in-depth with training, we recommend providing an orientation to the board as a whole, not reviewing any particular function in-depth but rather generating discussion on how they can use the system’s feature and adapt their processes with the new system.
Keeping a training short and specific to the task yields the most successful training results.
The most important question to ask before you implement a portal is… “Are we ready?”
Our top four indicators are:
- Having a board that recognizes the need to be better: This could be the need to go green, be more efficient, more productive, more transparent. If the board doesn’t perceive any problems with the current process, they won’t be as willing to entertain the sustained changes board portals demand.
- Determining clearly stated, realistic and time-specific goals for what implementing a board portal will accomplish: If there are no goals, it will be challenging to know whether an board portal implementation was successful or not. Setting specific benchmarks with a reasonable time frame tied to each one to help focus the group’s energy on making the implementation successful.
- Committing to investing time and energy to fully implementing a board portal: Entering users in a directory and building a book does not a successful implementation make. It requires a willing, informed driver who ensures the implementation continues and a core group of his or her pit team that provides back-up and energy for the driver. That really makes the difference. It’s also important to implement a portal in phases where each phase is combined with appropriate, practical training and usage of the new features is reinforced.
- Evaluating the success of the portal and communicating the findings with the board: Knowing how well you have met your goals can guide your adjustments on how you want to move forward and with what portal. Communicating the results of a portal project are important as the parties involved will change overtime as new board members join and others leave.