“All my directors are from the same generation – the one retiring!”
This is a concern we hear from many board chairs. Attracting high-performing board members is critical to your organization’s success. Yet even when great people join a board, we hear challenges about engagement:
“I have informed and engaged directors, but just two out of ten-member board.”
“It was taking us at least a year to get a new director up to speed. That’s just too long.”
If any of these issues sound familiar to you, we offer some advice we’ve gathered in conversations with hundreds of board chairs and administrators that Aprio serves. High-performance boards, it turns out, have similar practices and use board portal software to help attract and engage directors.
Many boards are made up of directors in their 50s, 60s and older. Members have historically recruited colleagues and friends, who were usually similar to them in age, and this tendency has led to aging boards across industry sectors. Bringing in new, younger and more diverse board members requires a different approach and technology to make your board run efficiently. Here are some best practices to consider.
As executives age, companies need to recruit more on vision than relationships with founders. Potential directors are motivated by purpose and want to connect to the impact of an organization. Articulating your vision should go beyond putting it on your website. Your central purpose and goals should be part of your recruitment efforts and included in your meeting agenda to be reinforced at every board meeting.
The new crop of board directors will likely be very comfortable with technology and expect immediate access to information and tools to perform their role. If you’re recruiting experienced board directors, they may have already used board portal technology, and even if they haven’t, board portals provide easy-to-use information access, tailored to board activities.
Orient directors to your board portal, focusing on day-in-the-life activities like preparing for a board meeting, participating in a board vote, foreseeing board key dates and accessing and easily searching archived minutes and motions. Emphasize that directors will receive alerts via email when board information is ready for review and be candid that use of the technology is expected. Some board portal software providers offer director training to support with this step.
New directors expect to contribute to the vision they were sold on. Plan the year’s board meeting agendas to include at least quarterly discussions on strategic performance issues as well as routine governance reviews. Make it easy for directors to contribute constructively on key topics using a digital agenda that links to critical background documents so they can prepare. Allow time for discussion and ask new members their perspective to help keep them engaged.
Between meetings, board chairs and committee leads need to resist the tendency to seek out input only from established, familiar directors. Engage newcomer and loyal directors in decisions using the board portal survey tool. Decisions can be ratified at the next meeting.
To get a true sense of how directors are contributing, a chair needs more insight than simply observing meetings. The chair needs tools that track whether directors are accessing board information and participating in decisions and strategic discussions.
In the past year we’ve heard many admired board chairs tell us that Aprio’s reports that record director login behavior and use of meeting material help them monitor and manage director engagement. Beyond annual director evaluations, chairs and committee leaders are monitoring director engagement to hold all directors accountable to be equal contributors, and provide continuous governance oversight.
The upside of accountability is that highly engaged directors can get recognition and thanks for their effort. Directors that become disengaged can be quickly re-engaged, perhaps given more training, without delaying until an annual director assessment.
When it comes to tenure, the reality may be that next-generation directors don’t stay as long as previous ones. Boards must adapt and have the tools in place for more rapid succession.
Boards need to be efficient at both onboarding and retiring directors, protecting board data while they are at it. As discussed above, a board portal makes onboarding a new director more convenient for board administrators, and it can also help retire outgoing directors because administrators can remove director login access and wipe data from the director’s devices when a director departs.
Recruiting new directors is a way to bring passion and fresh insight to your board. Getting recruitment and orientation right helps new directors to quickly contribute value and feel engaged and accountable to help realize your vision.
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