Improve your director onboarding process

As is the case with many industries, credit union internal training and development processes aren’t always what they should be. Many people have to either sink, swim, or just tread water.

It’s the treading water category that creates the greatest challenge for boards and credit unions.

These directors:

  • Have been strong enough not to drown, but are ill-prepared to swim. They have been treading water long enough to stay on the board but aren’t ready for prime-time governance.
  • Ride the current. They have good attendance and you can always count on them to make a motion or second, but they rarely speak up, ask strategic questions, or take a stand. They tend to follow the leader.

I frequently receive feedback about these treaders—comments such as, “They’re just a warm body” or “They don’t make any waves and support all our decisions.”

Both descriptions frighten me.

Today’s directors have to be good at strategic inquiry. To reach that point, they must have ample education, preparation, and clear governance expectations.

Onboarding ideas for a stronger board

An effective director onboarding program makes it possible for your credit union to develop, get the most from, and retain the best board members. Consider these 10 ideas on how to structure such a program:

1. Onboarding policy. Outline your program, noting clear roles, responsibilities, expectations, and outcomes. Executing the policy is your road map to success.

2. Orientation. Explain how the board governs and operates. Transfer information about the established direction, expected outcomes, values, vision, mission, and traditions of your credit union. Invite your marketing department to explain the credit union’s brand and unique value proposition. Address current strategic priorities and their importance. Provide an overview of the credit union’s business model.

3. Meet and greet. Have an open house where directors can acquaint themselves with members and staff, and get a sense of the credit union’s culture. It’s been said that “culture eats strategy for lunch.” Keep this in mind when establishing strategic priorities because you depend on credit union staff for execution.

4. Relationship building. Use regular meetings and other opportunities to build rapport, camaraderie, and inclusion. Stronger relationships and a high level of trust will result in more strategic thought, contribution, and action. Encourage new directors to weigh in and contribute. The more they do it, the easier it will become.

5. Formal education. The more directors know, the better decisions they will make. Provide education, internal or external, to deepen understanding of:

  • Governance within specific roles and responsibilities.
  • Enterprise risk.
  • Financial statements and key operating ratios.
  • Regulatory compliance.
  • Advocacy.
  • Red flags.

6. Engage them. Find committee opportunities for new board members right away. This will give them a chance to get to know the team better, provide an early sense of accomplishment, and shorten their learning curve.

7. Leverage contacts. Hopefully, your new directors arrive with contacts in the community and among select employee groups—or other areas that could translate into new business. Encourage them to make introductions and pursue those opportunities.

8. Mentor. Assign a mentor to new directors to provide encouragement and direction, answer questions, and develop and connect them as they become active members of the overall team.

9. Assessment. Check in frequently with new directors to gauge their progress and development. These are individual assessments, perhaps with the board chair or someone else the board chair assigns. It’s separate from the board’s group assessment, which should also occur annually.

10. Resources. The credit union space is full of excellent educational opportunities, including free NCUA training videos and first-class educational opportunities through CUNA or your league. When training funds are scarce, the board should make the most of free or low-cost opportunities.

Why it matters

High-performing credit unions always seem to have an equally high-performing board of directors. Increasing your effectiveness at director onboarding will improve your organization’s strategic direction. It’s as simple as that.