Onboarding yourself as a board member: Going beyond the board’s orientation

The following tips are adapted from Meg Crofton’s Journey to the Boardroom guide, detailing the ten steps she took to land a board seat and make an impact as a board director. In this post, Meg (board director at Tupperware Brands, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, and HCA Healthcare) shares quick strategies to go beyond the board orientation process to onboard yourself and gain a comprehensive understanding of your company and board.

I think of onboarding as a year-long process, going through the board’s orientation process and taking steps to further your learning and orient yourself beyond the formal process.

In general, I don’t think companies do a great job onboarding full-time leaders or board members, so directors have an additional responsibility to ensure they are informed and prepared for service. There is a tendency to set up a series of intensive meet-and-greets with executives to “check the box” that a board member is “oriented”. To me, that “orientation” is just one of the initial steps to a larger “onboarding” process.

While I fully support building relationships early on with company leadership, this is not generally where you will learn or retain the information critical for successful board service. Relationship-building happens over time as you interact with people, hear their ideas, and see processes in action. It takes time to orient yourself as budgets, growth/strategic plans, capital allocation plans, enterprise risk assessments, and more cycle year over year.

The following are my tips to deepen your own onboarding as a board member in your first year:

  • Build relationships with other directors. Make the effort to connect with your board peers individually over coffee or a meal. Ask them thoughtful questions and compare/contrast how they all see the company to develop and deepen your understanding of the organization and board dynamics.
  • Ask to attend all of the committee meetings for a year. While you will be assigned to one or two committees based on your area of expertise, attending the meetings for all committees will allow you to learn more details beyond the summarized committee reports at board meetings. This also allows you to see the next level of management in action, which can tell you a lot about the culture and talent within the company.
  • Ask to tour their facilities, ideally when your other business travel already allows you to be in proximity to their field locations.
  • Ask to attend one of their employee orientations.
  • If the company provides a product or service to consumers, take time to experience it as a consumer on an ongoing basis rather than having the VIP tour/experience they usually arrange for board members.

Read more of Meg’s tips to find your ideal board seat and power up as a board director in her step-by-step guide to a board seat.

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Originally published at https://athenaalliance.com on September 30, 2021.

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