Orientation on Operations

The third area of orientation is for new board members to be familiar with the operational side of the organization. What products and services does it offer? Who are the customers? Who are the employees? What are the operational strengths and weaknesses of the organization? Where are all of its offices? What are the common and the different challenges? How friendly are the business and political environments to the organization’s purpose and operational practices? To make effective high level decisions board members need to understand the implications of their decisions and the potential for effective implementation.

Orientation on Current Board Issues

The second area of orientation is current board issues. Since the board is to focus on the big picture, some of its topics of consideration are quite complex. A large capital investment may be discussed at board meetings for a year or more. When returning board members are already familiar with a topic, it is important that new board members get up to speed quickly so they can start to do their job of informed decision making.

A few organizations ensure everyone is up to speed by having board candidates attend board meetings for six to twelve months before they take office. Others provide newly selected board members with background information that they are to read before their term starts. Some have a new board member orientation meeting after all have read the background information package so returning board members can answer their questions and present the most critical information in person for enhanced. understanding. Another helpful practice is for high performing board members to be assigned as one-to-one mentors for incoming board members.

Orientation on Governance Philosophy

New board members can only fulfill expectations if they know what they are. Therefore, orientation to the organization’s governance philosophy is critical to board member success. Since it is important to have a fit between our personal beliefs and the organization’s values, it is helpful to provide the initial orientation on governance philosophy to board candidates before they are officially put on the ballot. We have experienced board members resigning from their positions once they found out what the job really entailed. When there isn’t a fit, let’s have potential board members step aside rather than have a vacant board seat because a new board member resigned after her second meeting.

Board Member Orientation

Being up to speed on the organization’s issues is an absolute necessity for board members to be effective. As I have mentioned before, many board members have told me that it can take them a couple of years to feel that they are on top of board agenda topics. So that organizations can benefit from all board members’ insights for the duration of their term of office, it is critical that new board members are up to speed very early in their term of office. This can best be assured with an effective board member orientation program.

Board Members Should Socialize

We are in a busy season of workplace social events. Some people enjoy the opportunity to see their colleagues outside of the office while others think being required to attend is an imposition on their time.

Many board members have told me that when they join a board, it can be two years before they feel like they have the “authority” to speak up at its meetings. It takes this long for them to feel well informed on the items on the board agenda and for them to know the other board members well enough to feel their ideas will be valued. This means that for an organization with three-year board terms and board members who don’t seek re-election, these board members are only fully contributing their insights for one-third of their term. Even if all the board members served a second term, they would be fully engaged only two-thirds of their six years of board service. No organization can optimize its effectiveness with only one-third to two-thirds of the senior decision-makers contributing meaningfully to setting its direction and policies.