Board development is a process. It’s designed to provide board members with training and support to enhance the skills and effectiveness of every director, no matter where they are on their governance journey.
With a good board development plan, the board collectively will do a better job at fulfilling its stewardship role.
That sounds straightforward enough. Yet, when I talk to some board directors and management teams about board training, they roll their eyes and I hear comments like, “Why bother spending the money? They’re just going to leave at some point, and we lose.”
It’s true that all board directors eventually depart when their terms expire. But what about the benefit to your organization in the meantime? Doesn’t the circle go ‘round so that a director you recruit in the future may have been trained elsewhere? And when your former director joins their next board, they start to ‘pay it forward’ by sharing their skills and experience with others. The impact of director quality on board governance in the community gets better. It’s all good.
Fortunately, savvy advisors like Kieran Moynihan, Managing Director of Board Excellence in Ireland, the UK, Europe and internationally, have seen a positive picture of the benefits of a board development plan.
“In my experience, 95% of board directors want to improve and add significant value to their organization – a board development plan puts structure around this and when done well, is a very powerful motivating force to help a board be its very best!”
Before writing this blog, I looked around for a detailed roadmap that would outline the common steps for creating a board development plan. I’ve always thought it was a good idea to recognize that every board is at a different stage in its life cycle. So, while the initiatives may be similar from board-to-board, the sequencing and design of your board development program needs to fit what’s called for now.
Those insights are often generated following some form of board evaluation - whether it’s a robust third-party process, board chair discussions with each director, a board survey, committee survey, peer-to-peer feedback, or possibly a board discussion during an in camera session.
You can think of a board development plan as a continuous improvement cycle for directors where the board might undertake one or two things a year, evaluate the results, and plan for the following year with different initiatives to keep things fresh.
In the language of the quality management gurus – it’s a version of the PDCA cycle – Plan, Do, Check, Act.
When planning, you want to avoid overwhelming the board with too many initiatives in one governance year. Board directors are busy people. Finding a date that’s free for everyone to attend an off-site board retreat requires advance planning. And that’s what board calendars are for.
It’s important for the board to take ownership of the development plan because it’s not the CEO’s program. Management and staff will have a role in logistics planning, but the results are driven by the leadership of the governance committee that’s charged with oversight of the plan.
With valued input from our colleague Kieran Moynihan, here are three ‘buckets’ from which to choose and sequence the components of this year’s board development plan.
Think of it as a SET – Social relationships, Evaluations, and Training.
An annual board retreat, teambuilding, and soft skills development are often-neglected areas. At the end of the day, boards are about people and how well they work together. You may recall habit #3 of the Six Key Habits of the Savvy Director is to collaborate well with others.
“The best boards take the time to invest in developing themselves as a high-performing team in their own right.” - Kieran Moynihan
Annual board/committee and chair/director evaluations play a critical role in measuring the progress of the board’s development. When done well, these tools identify the roadmap of improvements needed to enable the board, committees, and individual directors to continuously improve and excel, both individually and collectively.
Training ranges from regulatory and governance code updates to governance/board best practices training, to specialized training like financial literacy. This training would be adapted for board level stewardship in areas such as cybersecurity, ESG, AI, technology, etc.
As we wrap up this edition of The Savvy Director, I’d like to share one last observation from Kieran Moynihan.
“There is a strong school of thought that this sophisticated approach is only relevant for large corporate boards – I don’t subscribe to this and have seen a wide range of boards, from large corporate to small nonprofit/charity boards benefit enormously from a board development plan.”
Scott Baldwin is a certified corporate director (ICD.D) and co-founder of DirectorPrep.com – an online membership with practical tools for board directors who choose a growth mindset.
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