June 17, 2016

How To Prepare As A New Board Member

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This is a guest post from Diligent Corporation, the global leader in board portal technology. Learn more about board collaboration at diligent.com.

How to prepare as a new board member?

Joining a board can be daunting, especially if it's a relatively new experience for you.  However, there are a few things anyone should have on their checklist as they prep for that first board meeting:

Understand the tools and expectations

First, you should get a clear view of how this new board works and what expectations are of you.  For example, how does the board conduct meetings?  Using paper documents or using an electronic solution like a board portal?  Assuming the company is using a board portal, you should get access and make sure the resource center is loaded up with important documents you might need.  In addition, you'll want to get trained on the system so you know how to download docs, take notes, and interact with other board members.

Secondly, there are typically norms associated with a board regarding how far in advance docs are distributed, how the board interacts (e.g., via Robert's Rules of Order or less formally), and what the responsibilities of your specific role will be.  For example, what committees will you be on?  What specific expertise is the board hoping to gain from bringing you on.  Having a clear picture of the expectations will help you exceed them right from the start.

Finally, get informed about any security or compliance guidelines that need to be followed.  Often board members are requested to follow certain security protocols to keep board materials confidential or are required to disclose (or not disclose) certain information as part of their compliance guidelines.  

Learn the history and the industry

It's important to get up to speed on the history of the company and its board meetings before you join.  Review the minutes of past board meetings and past board documents.  These should be stored in the board portal, assuming your company is using one. You should also ask for industry reports, news about the company (both positive and negative), and read up on any legal or regulatory requirements that apply to your organization. 

Get to know the rest of the board

Familiarize yourself with the rest of the board so you know the folks around the table.  You should be able to find a quick profile for each board member, but you should also understand who is on which committee, and get a sense for their areas of interest and expertise by reviewing past board meeting minutes.  In addition, try to get a chance to speak with the board member you're replacing as well as the CEO to get a better sense for how to add the most value in board meetings. 

Prepare for the first meeting

Armed with an understanding of how the board conducts business, the history of the company and the industry, and the other folks on the board, you're ready to do the prep that you'll do for any board meeting: reviewing the board materials and preparing questions, concerns, and discussion topics for the day of.  

At this point, you'll already have a clear sense of where to get board materials.  Usually, if your organization is using a board portal, you'll be able to get a version of the document well in advance (even if it's not 100% complete).  This should give you plenty of time to start reviewing the materials, annotating them, and even starting dialogues with other board members before the meeting.

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