When is it time to go?

The question of board tenure and when to step down is popping up more frequently these days, usually broached either by credit union directors who have faithfully served on their boards for a long time and are ready to pass the torch, or by a credit union director regarding another director on the board who has served for a long time, but other than attending regular meetings doesn’t make much of a meaningful contribution.

Knowing when it’s time to go

Let’s address the example request from a director who has faithfully served on a credit union’s board for years. These sincere requests come from directors who truly care about the credit union. Perhaps they’ve seen the challenges credit unions face change since they began their selfless service years ago and they believe it’s time for a fresh perspective from someone with more relevant experience. Or it could be due to health or other personal challenges impacting their ability to continue to contribute as much as they’d like. It could be they are tired but feel they must keep up the fight due to a high sense of duty.

These inquiries need to be carefully considered by the board. In life, there are things more important than board service, (i.e., health, family, etc.). When a board member can’t serve on the board with gusto, it’s better for them – and the credit union – to seek a replacement. If there’s an issue with the board collectively lacking certain expertise, experiences, or diversity, this inquiry could be the perfect time to make a change. Finally, for those directors who have served for so long and are just afraid to give it up out of a sense of duty, recognize their remarkable contribution and let them know it’s okay to let go. Celebrate this group – they have played an integral role in the credit union’s growth and success for many, many years.

An invitation to go

Unfortunately, there are those board members who need an invitation to go. These are board members who continue to fill board seats, but other than attending regular meetings, don’t contribute. They rarely weigh in on discussions or debate and just go with the flow. Their consistent lack of engagement creates frustration for other board members who are serious about the future success of the credit union. On the other end of the spectrum, there are board members so firmly set in the past, they’ve become an impediment to progress. Either of these situations will impair your organization and must be addressed.

The best way to mitigate these issues is by having board governance policies, clear director performance expectations, and regular board assessments. When situations do arise, they must be handled professionally, usually involving a formal one-on-one conversation with the director to address board-performance issues led by the board chair or board-appointed director. It’s important to address these issues with the same level of care that would accompany a staff performance issue focused on expectations and outcomes.

Why it matters

The need to ask and address these questions is especially timely and relevant. The environment credit unions operate in today has never been more dynamic. In fact, given the economic impacts of the pandemic, credit unions have never faced stronger headwinds.

Credit union members, management, and staff deserve to have a talented and engaged board of directors ready to face the challenges of the day and map the course of the future.

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