Joining a board of directors can potentially be overwhelming for anyone who is not adequately prepared. Beyond being expected to help make key decisions in the oversight of strategy, capital structure and financial reporting, and management, board members play complex, important roles. An effective director on-boarding or orientation process can help make a director and the entire board more effective.

In a study conducted by Heidrick & Struggles in 2017, over 500 board members from various types of organizations  gave their feedback on their boards’ on-boarding processes. While the majority of the respondents enjoyed their roles and were satisfied with their boards’ governance, 45% of respondents noted that their boards did not have a defined on-boarding experience. 

To properly on-board new directors, the process should have a number of steps. It might start with telephone calls from the board chair and CEO welcoming their new colleague. While some companies have new board members attend a webinar to formally introduce the new director to the company, I prefer a full day orientation session at the company. Whether electronically or in person, this important session should cover, among other things, the culture of the organization, a “deep dive” on the business units, an overview of financial results and projections, a review of key market metrics, discussion of governance issues, and a variety of other things important to the company and position. It is also useful for a new director to visit company locations, be they manufacturing facilities, distribution centers, stores, restaurants, etc. 

Once a director is selected and accepts the position, it can be helpful to attend a board meeting before the first “official” meeting. This can help incoming board members gain insight into how meetings are run and how issues are resolved; it can also help them start to build relationships with their new colleagues. Another useful on-boarding step is to have a new director attend each committee meeting for the first year before assigning the new director to one or more committees. Some companies have new director mentoring programs, where a new board member has a specific, experienced director colleague who is particularly available to answer questions and offer advice on any issues or protocols. 

If an individual is unsure of the role he or she plays on the board, it can slow down and even derail the work the board is trying to accomplish. Taking the time to build a defined, effective new director on-boarding process can increase the quality of interactions with fellow board members and allow the newest members to be up to speed with the inner workings of the organization and their role more quickly, thus improving the efficacy of the entire board.

Jonathan F. Foster
Founder & Managing Director – Current Capital Partners LLC