On the Board Improvement Highway, The Onramp and the Offramp are Equally Important

Onboarding and offboarding of directors is crucial for boards with an Infinite mindset and goal for improvement. Often onboarding gets lip service and a little attention while offboarding is virtually unheard of. These steps help create a positive governance culture and a higher performing board. Presenting comprehensive information with support, and asking the right questions are the ways to unlock the power of these.

By Kevin Smith

Board Improvement Highway

Board Improvement Highway

It’s a simple metaphor. Really. Credit union board service is a highway journey for which we must have an onramp and an offramp. But here’s the deal – too many credit unions, boards and directors only pay attention to the “highway” part of that. Some pay cursory attention to the onramp and MOST ignore the offramp completely. To extend this metaphor (reductio ad absurdum) to the ridiculous, it’s as if the board-mobile slows down a little bit, barely long enough for you to get in, but only opens the door for you to drop and roll on the way out. Sheesh! All to the detriment of the board. (In the next episode – is your board-mobile a 1972 Cadillac, a 1986 Chevy Chevette or a 2020 Tesla?!)

Back to Our Highway Metaphor

When I’m out talking to directors, whether it be with an individual board at a governance session, or speaking in a conference setting, I often ask board members about their first days as directors. I ask how long it was from the time they signed their first board oath, to the time when they felt comfortable, knew enough to ask hard questions, and really understood not just the financials of the credit union, bit the full scope of its operations. The answers to this are inevitably measured in YEARS … not weeks, or even months.

The Onramp

Bringing on new board members is a tremendous opportunity that should not be wasted. This is a chance to make sure that the newbie has a full spectrum of resources, training, tools and oversight so that they can speed up that learning curve as much as possible. You must also do this thoughtfully, so as to not overwhelm the rookie. Rather you want to make them know they are supported and have a place to turn for answers.

What the Onramp is NOT

This is not simply handing out a stack of reading materials, 30 minutes on how to lose their new PC password, and directions for the coffee maker and how to order the post-meeting dinner entrée.

The Onramp IS:

  • History of the credit union

    Board Improvement Onramp

    Board Improvement Onramp

  • History of the credit union movement
  • A list of names, contact emails and phone numbers
  • Assignment of a mentor
  • A copy of the board policies – along with a set of times for the mentor to review/explain
  • One-on-one discussion of what the board’s culture looks/feels like
  • Discussion of the expectations for all directors
  • A copy of (ahem) the TEAM Resources publication A Credit Union Guide to Strategic Governance (C’mon. You had to see that coming. 😉 )
  • A transparent indication of the ongoing education expectations, options and budget
  • A comprehensive list of trade associations, publications, online resources, subscriptions, etc.

This, of course, should be prepared in writing before the newbie is even recruited. This way you have the chance to talk this through with the board or nominating committee and have agreement on what these expectations are.

And above all else – this is NOT a one-day brain dump and hand off of information! This is an ongoing process, with two-way dialogue outside of the board meetings. (Yes. This sounds like a lot, but compared to the overwhelming feeling of not knowing what to do, you will be providing your new director with the support he/she needs to develop confidence quickly.)

The Offramp

The Offramp, the exit interview, is JUST AS important as the recruitment interview. You are treating your board service and your credit union’s mission like it is, as Simon Sinek likes to call it, an Infinite Game, with no end. The exit interview is the opportunity to find out the good, the bad and the ugly. You want to hear not just praise but what you could be doing better, to seek for improvement. More and more, corporations are paying attention to the exit interviews for employees, but still not nearly enough. (And often they’re perfunctory items on a checklist that are filed away into oblivion … sadly.)

Offramp Questions

  • What was your best memory as a board member?
  • What was your most fulfilling interaction with a member?
  • What was your most challenging interaction with a member?
  • How have you grown as a result of your board service?


  • What was the most difficult decision you made as a board member?
  • What decision may have caused you regret?
  • What is the best part of our board’s culture? The worst?
  • With candor, but also respect, are there issues that are not being addressed? What are they?
  • What would you change if you could go back and start over?
  • What else would you like to tell me?

Board service at a credit union is challenging as we deal with more VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity). We owe it to our credit unions and our members to be fully prepared to move forward.  

Board Improvement Superhighway

Board Improvement Superhighway

2 replies
  1. Robert Lux says:

    Outstanding article, I just forwarded to all of my board members. Hopefully the Board Certification school will be rescheduled later this year.
    Thank you for your thoughts.

    Robert Lux
    Board Chairman
    Telco Community Credit Union

  2. Kevin Smith says:

    Thanks so much for the kind words Robert and for sharing this with your gang. We certainly hope that CUNA will be rescheduling the certification program as well. We’ll pass along your comments to them. In the meantime, if you need anything, please let us know. We’re here to help.
    Kevin Smith, TEAM Resources

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