There’s a reason why driving board engagement continues to be a hot topic in the world of modern board management: it’s critical to ensure board efficiency, but it’s easier said than done. What’s more, ineffective board engagement and communication are some of the top factors in board resignations.
In this post, we’ll be exploring what good board engagement means, and we’ll also provide you with 10 ways to engage board members that you can apply to your own boardroom.
Board engagement is more than showing up on time, attending meetings, reading board packets, participating in discussions, and casting votes. It also means having directors who challenge the status quo, initiate productive debates, and consistently consider how they make a contribution to the board, organization, and community at large. They’re tapped into the organization’s mission, have a clear understanding of their role, and are able to collaborate with their fellow directors in a way that makes board meetings productive and efficient.
While directors might initially intend to be the most engaged board member they can be when first joining a board, the lack of a clear role, structure, and technology in the boardroom can cause high-potential board members to tap out. That’s why it’s important to prioritize board engagement and ensure that all board members are given the opportunity to contribute in the fullest way possible from the moment they join your board. Let’s take a closer look at what that means.
From the very beginning, you’ll want to ramp up new directors meaningfully and quickly, allowing them to be informed and prepared to make meaningful contributions at board meetings as soon as possible.
Onboarding is much more than just an exchange of information. During the onboarding process, new directors should receive a clear background picture of their organization’s mission, goals, and challenges. They should also receive detailed information on how the board makes decisions and how they should expect to receive board communication.
If your board uses technology to store and communicate board information, new recruits should also be trained on how to use the system and how to access historical board data. Board portal providers like Aprio offer 30-minute, one-on-one director training free of charge, so be sure that board members take advantage.
New directors, and even more established board members, need to have a clear understanding of their role on the board, what their responsibilities are, and the time commitment they should expect to spend on governance duties inside and outside of board meetings.
In addition, each director should understand how their unique background and experience will help them contribute to the board and how they “fit” within the larger board picture.
A good practice is for the board chair to meet with new directors one-on-one to clearly lay out the expectations of the role to avoid misunderstandings in the future. This is also a great opportunity to discuss what kinds of roles motivate the board member most, what their personal goals are, and any other skills or talents that they could bring to the board. And for more established board members, board roles can be discussed annually to ensure that any new goals or skills that they’ve gained are taken into account.
With clearly established roles, both new and established board members can self-manage and gain a sense of accountability.
According to research by McKinsey, engaging directors in strategic dialog, as well as educating them in your organization’s challenges, is essential to retaining directors, boosting board effectiveness, and achieving productive board discussions.
What’s more, directors actually want to be involved in strategic dialogue. In fact, in a survey, two thirds of directors stated that they’d like to spend additional time in board meetings discussing strategy.
Unfortunately, half of the directors surveyed feel that they are shut out from strategic dialog and only review and approve their management team’s proposed strategies. When directors aren’t involved in key strategic decisions, they may feel like their opinions and experience aren’t valued by the organization, and are more likely to become disengaged. By allowing your board members to contribute their meaningful perspectives to corporate strategy, you may even find that your organization’s performance improves as a result!
Keeping directors informed should always be a top priority. As a rule, board administrators should take intentional steps to keep members informed, ensure access to board materials, and provide timely responses to requests.
But it’s not a simple task. Even if your organization is using email or Dropbox links to share board materials ahead of a meeting, it’s still significant work for the board administrator to prepare board packages and ensure that all emails to directors containing links to important documents go out on time. Not only is it easy to make errors, but if there’s a last-minute change, it almost guarantees confusion, as links to outdated and updated materials float around in inboxes.
When board communication is prioritized, and especially when technology like board meeting software is used to streamline the meeting preparation process, both board members and administrators waste less time searching for the right versions of documents, and administrators spend less time on the phone responding to requests. This allows board directors to focus on board activities rather than trying to find information, which in turn prevents frustration and promotes informed and engaged board members.
A prepared director is an engaged director. In order to have director engagement, you need to give them the materials they need to stay on top of issues and be accountable. This means giving them 24/7 access to board pack materials they can read on any device, and ensure that both current and historical board documentation is easily retrievable and searchable.
Giving your directors this easy access ensures that you’ll get their accountability and engagement in return. Even better, you’ll be able to check to see if you’re getting the engagement you need to run better board meetings. Reporting metrics in Aprio will tell you if directors are accessing board materials ahead of the meeting and if they’re reviewing all materials.
If one of your directors isn’t regularly reviewing documents, this is an opportunity for the board chair to have a one-on-one accountability meeting with them to see what needs to change.
The most productive board meetings are used for discussing issues, seeking meaningful board input, and making strategic decisions, not briefing directors on background information or rehashing old issues. To make your meetings more effective, and keep directors engaged and interested, it’s smart to encourage collaboration and discussion between board meetings.
If you’re using software like a board portal for your board communication, you can use it as a centralized repository where all board-related communication can take place. Directors can use online discussion tools to discuss key decisions and use annotation features to take notes directly on board materials. If directors so choose, they can even share their annotations with other directors with one simple click.
As with any board communication, the most important thing is to find a method that allows you to keep board information secure while also keeping your directors engaged and up to date.
When Aprio asks governance experts what board administrators can do to quickly improve meeting outcomes and director engagement, we hear one answer consistently: improve meeting agendas and minutes.
Agendas and minutes have a big impact on how meetings are conducted and how easily their outcomes can be referenced back to later. Don’t overlook the power of these documents or allow your board members to be bored during meetings! In your board agendas, consider best practices such as adding high-impact topics to instantly boost your board productivity, and make sure your board minutes highlight resolutions, capture only the vitals, and use a consistent format.
The structure of your meeting can have a huge impact on director engagement. After you’ve reevaluated how you create your meeting agendas, consider:
Giving your directors an equal voice is essential to keeping them engaged. Unfortunately, board meetings can sometimes favour the director with the loudest voice. That’s why it’s important to provide a way for all directors to share their thoughts and opinions beyond the boardroom.
Technology like board portal software can democratize the board environment, giving directors a way to ask questions, annotate documents, and raise their concerns online. An introverted director may not feel comfortable voicing their concern in a meeting, but because they can share it online, everyone has a chance to be heard. Votes can also be held online in board portal platforms, allowing a consensus to be found on time-sensitive issues quickly and efficiently, with each vote carrying equal weight.
Finally, it’s important to invest in the relationship you have with your board members. Take the time to meet each month or every quarter with your directors, on an individual basis if you can, so that you can really get to know them. Make a point to celebrate personal and professional accomplishments, organize annual retreats, and host the occasional out-of-boardroom event.
When directors feel that they are truly part of the team and that their contributions are recognized, you’ll find that they’ll automatically become more motivated to contribute to the board. Never overlook the power of the feeling of being valued, and make the effort to really solidify the relationships with and within your board.
While there are many ways to engage board members, they are all made simpler with the help of purpose-built board portal software. And while board portal software like Aprio has many features that are convenient and easy to use, it also plays a much deeper role in driving board engagement. Here’s how:
As we all know, engaged boards are the most efficient and productive, and retaining a highly engaged board of directors goes hand in hand with running better board meetings and enabling efficient communications. The sooner your board adopts a board management solution like Aprio to run better board meetings, the sooner you’ll overcome the obstacles to having an informed and engaged board of directors.
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