For any new director, a learning curve comes with the territory. Just how steep that learning curve is—and how quickly a new director is able to contribute meaningfully to the work of the board and its committees—can hinge directly on the quality of the onboarding process.
Understanding the business—its operations, strategies, risks, competitive landscape, and management team, as well as the responsibilities and culture of the board and its committees—takes time. A robust onboarding process that includes essential information and briefing materials, quality discussions with key people, and a “road map” for getting up to speed can greatly accelerate a new director’s integration and contribution to the board’s work.
Directors joining their first board face the added challenge of understanding the board's unique role and how it differs from that of management in helping to oversee and guide the business forward.
Formal orientation programs alone may be inadequate to get a new director up to speed and able to contribute to the work of the board early on. Moreover, onboarding needs may vary from director to director depending on a number of factors, including the director’s background and experience, and the role the director is expected to play on the board and board committees. As a result, a new director should be prepared to take responsibility for his/her onboarding plan, working with management and others to determine how best to get up to speed and build a strong foundation for informed oversight.
Elements for new directors to consider as part of an overall onboarding framework include:
- Suggested reading
- An initial orientation session
- Additional one‑on‑one meetings with key people in the organization to develop a deeper understanding of the business, its key governance processes, and its leaders.
No "one size fits all"
Onboarding is not a “one size fits all” process, and may vary considerably depending on the company and the background, experience, and areas of interest of a new director. While management plays a key role in shaping the onboarding program, every new director needs to take charge of his or her own onboarding to help ensure that it is properly tailored and focused.
A good onboarding process should provide information about the company to enable a new board member to add value based on his or her own unique experience and perspective. And a director's education should not end with the onboarding process. Continually seeking out relevant information from internal and external sources and a deeper understanding of the business, the competitive landscape, and emerging opportunities and threats are essential to provide effective oversight and bring insight and foresight to the boardroom dialogue.
Ultimately, a robust onboarding process should help position a new director to engage in a healthy, ongoing dialogue with management, fellow directors, and others with insights into the company and the business environment in which it operates.