Effective board members understand how the organisation they are on the board of works. While there are doubtless many avenues to gaining an understanding of how an organisation works, few can be as imperative as a detailed and thorough induction process.
And yet recent research tells us that a staggering 83 per cent of board members feel less than satisfied with what passed as ‘induction’ when they assumed their board positions.
That’s pretty damn scary – and all I can say is that new board members should DEMAND an effective induction, one that’s more than a series of introductions and a copy of the minutes from the last year’s board meetings but rather, a well-planned process delivered in digestible servings over several months.
History tells us that if the induction is effective, if it equips new members to understand the organisation, how it works, what its industry is like, what competitors it has, what pressing issues it faces, the responsibilities of senior managers and the way the board works, their contribution will be a whole lot more effective – and a lot sooner.
So DEMAND it!
Believe me, in governance it is quite common to see various tensions between the board and management which impact the organisation’s effectiveness. We’re human, after all, so should expect these challenges to present themselves from time to time, but with a solid understanding of how an organisation works, we can go a long way towards effectively dealing with a veritable minefield of pitfalls, among them (and these are but a few examples):
the CEO and senior managers acting as gatekeepers and filtering or sanitising information going to the board;
an overwhelming desire for positive relationships that leads to an avoidance of constructive criticism;
lobbying, politicking and alliances that invariably result in board camps and divisions; and
a board that’s reactive and runs on dangerous ad hoc decision-making.
Along with inductions, periodic information sessions for the board presented by senior managers with operational responsibilities will help to keep board members apprised of operations. This is not so you can go off and direct operations; rather, it’s designed to ensure you’re better placed to make strategic decisions.
Similarly, when serving on board committees, if you are across the charter or terms of reference, you’ll know whether, for example, the committee has decision-making powers or the power only to make recommendations to the board.
You will also appreciate that if, as a board member, you have an individual role such as opening doors to new business opportunities, your delegation must be precise.
Finally, through a best practice induction topped up by regular and instructive information sessions, you’ll have a keen grasp of communication protocols.
You’ll sense what’s acceptable when a board member communicates with managers or staff other than the CEO and you’ll know how to communicate with your fellow board members.
As a general rule, you can contact staff to seek information but not to direct as this is the responsibility of the CEO; while within the board, you should raise issues of concern with the chairman and not politic in factions outside board meetings.
Diligent behaviour, which conveniently brings us to the topic we’ll explore next week…
Until next time,