IMHO: Going “overboard”
What is the right number of directorships you should take on?
OPINION: Don’t throw your new director to the wolves; a successful induction builds a successful board.
Never assume that someone knows how to be a director. Never assume that they know how your board works best, or even what skills, knowledge, and abilities your board wants from them.
Every board is unique and so is every different director that may join your board. It follows, as a logical progression, that every induction program should also be unique. Build the program based on the specific needs and desires of your board, company and new director.
Induction should be a two-way process where the board learns more about the new director and the new director learns more about the board, the other directors, and the company. This is imperative even if the recruitment process has been carried out with diligence and exhaustive attention to detail. Not every director will be involved in the recruitment process, and the CEO and senior executive team members will not have had much opportunity to become familiar with the new board member.
Sometimes induction requires the involvement of major shareholders and other influential stakeholders. Don’t limit your process by following a set program that was written by a ‘plain vanilla’ academic for a ‘plain vanilla’ company. Embrace the full richness of your board’s environment to ensure that any recruit can rapidly assimilate knowledge and build relationships so that they are confident and effective from the moment they start in their role.
Here is my preferred process for building a strong connection between a new director and the board.
Start with a ‘standard pack’ of information. This pack might include (but should not be limited to):
Provide a schedule of meetings so that the new director can spend time with each of the CEO’s direct reports, the CEO, the Company Secretary and each of the other directors. Start this with a long meeting between the new director and chair to discuss the board’s key concerns, culture, operating modes, etc. A new directorship is similar to a ‘journey of a thousand coffees’. It requires understanding people at a deeper level than can be achieved by merely reading their CV or answering a few of their questions during an interview.
Remember that, given the joint and several nature of the board’s responsibilities, each director must understand and trust the others.
Create a schedule of learning experiences; this might include:
Consider having a board 'style' assessment using DISC, HBDI, Myers Briggs, Strengths Finder, or any of the available methodologies to give the board an understanding of the preferred interaction style of each director and how to best manage their preferences when they work together. Far from being 'navel gazing exercises', these assessments can give a common vocabulary and facilitate building consensus more quickly.
Complete your induction with a follow up meeting between the new director and chair so that any surprises can be discussed, and insights shared. Fresh eyes will often see things that the existing directors have become accustomed to. Remember that the induction is a two-way process and the new director can teach the board and company as they teach him or her.
Julie Garland McLellan is a consultant who works with boards and directors to give them the practical skills they need to build better businesses. She is famous for her practical and pragmatic approach to the real problems that face boards and directors and for her ability to bring sanity and solutions to even the most vexed boardroom.
She has first-hand experience on 18 boards across three continents — including listed, private, government, and not-for-profit boards — and has helped boards to lead successful organisations for over 22 years. Julie has written and facilitated director education for leading governance institutions, including the Australian Institute of Company Directors, The Governance Institute of Australia, The National Association of Corporate Directors (USA), The Taiwan Corporate Governance Association, etc.
Julie is the author of six books for directors and is publisher of The Director’s Dilemma newsletter.
The views expressed in this article do not reflect the position of the IoD unless explicitly stated.
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