Are You Doing Enough to Onboard Your Directors and Committee Members?

The Spotting of an Extremely Rare Event: A Full-Day Onboarding Event
by Kevin Smith

I recently had the privilege to be part of something I’ve found pretty rare in my time working with credit union boards and supervisory committees: A full-day onboarding event. And … it made no pretense about being comprehensive. The fresh meat … er … I mean, the rookie members got the clear message that the full day of onboarding and training was not meant to cover everything, and they were enthusiastic about this fact and theyunderstood. This event had little to do with where the coffee is kept, how to access email and set up the new iPad. It had nothing to do with the schedule for the year, or where the strategic planning session will be held this year. The agenda called for a thorough review of duties and responsibilities, for best practices in communications between the supervisory committee and the board, for governance best practices. Deep stuff!

This all begs the questions:

  • Why is this rare? (And if you want to argue with me about the fact that it’s rare, bring it on.)
  • Are you doing enough as a board, as a committee to make sure you’re all up to speed and, more importantly, on the same page, and functioning as an actual team.

For those veteran credit union volunteers out there: think back to your first year on the board. What was your experience like? How long did it take for you to feel comfortable in your roll? Comfortable enough to ask challenging questions of your colleagues, or of your CEO? Was it trial by fire, being thrown in the deep end? (There’s fire and water for you. Anyone have any earth and air/sky metaphors I can use to complete the cycle?)

When I ask these questions at training sessions, the veteran directors always laugh and tell tales of what they didn’t know and how long it took before they felt comfortable in the role.

The fact of the matters is that there can be (is) a long learning curve for credit union directors and committee members who don’t have a background in the industry. Typically, I’ve heard it measured in years. Consider that directors meet once a month for a couple of hours on average. That’s not a lot of time in the seat. (Yes … there’s plenty of reading in between meetings, and online courses, and conferences, and webinars. You ARE doing ALL of these things, right? Right?!)

There were many impressive facets to the credit union team that I got to work with. They acknowledged that there were gaps in the current environment (self-reflection), agreed to act on these (consensus), and they did a great job of communicating. They set out to get buy-in immediately from the new members by communicating thoroughly about what the expectations would be, what the learning curve would entail, and that the goal would be a transparent, high performing organization focused on strategy. The thorough communication was the spark that got things moving.

I do take heart in the fact that more and more credit unions are implementing associate director programs, or something similar. This is a way to get a director up to speed and prepare them to hit the ground running. This is a fantastic way of handling things. It’s also a conscious, intentional effort towards succession planning. (I digress to a topic for another day.)

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Communicate and set the expectation that this will take some time.
  • Allocate time and resources to the process, not just lip service.
  • Include one on one time with key people.
  • Include the history of the credit union, and the CU movement. It’s important!
  • Customize the onboarding process to the candidate. There is no one size fits all.

Included here is a downloadable resource from the new TEAM Resources handbook, A Credit Union Guide to Strategic Governance, for a more thorough list of things to consider. Click on the image to the right to access.

(Click here for more information about the handbook.)

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