When starting out as a director, it’s natural to be unsure about how you will add value in the boardroom. Until you get to know the business you can’t be expected to know everything about the business. Before accepting a board position, you should always do some due diligence around the organisation and know what you’re getting yourself into.
There are also some important questions that any enquiring board member will ask of management – or each other – about the items of business placed in front of them. These are questions that you should ask, not questions you can afford to hope someone else will ask!
A board needs to constantly be asking itself and management some key questions. Negative responses indicate an area of concern and the need for board attention/direction.
Finally, there are a few principles which make any board effective:
You, as governor of an organisation are liable for the decisions you make. You always need to be able to show that you did everything you could to ensure the board made the right decisions. Always remember too, that “I wasn’t at the meeting” is not a good enough excuse. You are still held to account for the decisions of the board as a collective.
It’s a helpful rule of thumb to spend at least 1-2 hours out-of-meeting time reading up on the papers for each hour of in-meeting time.
Especially regarding finance! If you don’t understand, make sure you ask the right questions until you do. Set up a session with your accountant or CFO to go through the budgets until you know how the place ticks. Don’t hesitate to bring in an external expert if you need to.
Any director should be motivated by the desire to add value to the boardroom and the organisation. Self-reflection after the meeting is recommended.
Accept you will make mistakes. Governance is not about a right and a wrong answer. It is about making strategic decisions and choices about the future. Take the fear out of making mistakes by planning, measuring and reflecting honestly.
Also see New to governance