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Over the last decade, we have supported hundreds of for-purpose organisations to find and appoint new Non-Executive Directors to their boards. Often more than one at a time.

The key to a successful appointment is not just about the new skills, experience and perspective they will bring. It’s how well (and how quickly) they can find their groove with the rest of the board and the positive implications their appointment can have on the team dynamic of the board and the culture, that will trickle down into the rest of the organisation.

Onboarding is critical and you have a small window of opportunity to get it right. Covid-19 lockdowns brought a whole new set of challenges, which we have written about separately, but with restrictions easing and a buoyant non-executive market, we take a close look at the all-important onboarding process.

Being prepared is key. Most constitutions limit the terms of Directors to 2 or 3 years so this is something you’re going to need on an ongoing basis. 

Onboarding kit

Most of the boards we work with have created an Onboarding Kit for new Directors. These can be digital, hard copy or a combination of both. There’s a lot of information which can be collated here – quite a bit to prepare, which also equates to a lot for the new recruit to digest – but it will be the integral point of reference so is worth the effort. Reviewing the kit regularly to keep the information up to date means that it’s ready to go when needed. Onboarding Kits are generally maintained by the Company Secretary, an HR leader, or the Nominations Committee.

  • Information for the Onboarding Kit should include:
  • Mission, Vision and Values statements
  • Annual Reports and Strategy documents
  • Organisation chart
  • Job Description for the role (with goals and objectives), including remuneration if applicable
  • Director profiles and contact information
  • Committee assignments
  • Board and committee calendars
  • Login and security codes (online, buildings, parking)
  • Most recent Board Skills matrix
  • Financial Reports
  • Previous 6 months’ board materials and minutes
  • Board corporate governance guidelines
  • A list of what are considered reasonable expenses (most Board roles in the for-purpose space aren’t remunerated, however reasonable expenses are reimbursed)
  • Links to relevant online films, training videos
  • Scheduled dates for review and feedback meetings with the Chair

Planning – Who and What and When?

Making a decision about who will be involved with the onboarding, what their role will be, and when they engage is another thing to establish beforehand.

  • The Chair – the entry point of engagement; a welcome conversation which is informal but also sets expectations
  • Chairs of any Sub Committees the new recruit will be involved in
  • The CEO, the CFO, and other key executive team members
  • The Company Secretary/member of staff who will be assisting administratively (arranging meetings and coordinating diaries etc)
  • A Mentor – Some of our clients like to team new recruits who are less experienced in Governance with a more seasoned Director as a mentor

Reiterate your board’s expectations – the goals and objectives should be clear in the Job Description but it’s important they are also woven into those early conversations.

Create a timeframe

Some of our clients invite new recruits to their office for a morning, afternoon or day to meet and greet. However other organisations we work with – who have a national scope, with a team and board spread out across the country – can’t practically meet in person; Covid-19 restrictions have impacted this too.  Meeting via Zoom isn’t ideal but until the board can get together in person, creating a timely (but not overwhelmingly exhaustive) series of Zoom meetings or phone conversations is the way to go.

Sometimes a recruitment process has been specifically timed to lead in to an AGM or a Strategy planning day. If that’s not the case, are there any events scheduled before their first board meeting? An opening, an anniversary, a fundraising event? A social occasion is a great way to introduce and welcome a new board member.

Some of our clients view the entire first 12 months as a form of orientation, ensuring that open communication and support is available to a new board member through that first calendar cycle.

Has the new recruit been involved in the for-purpose space before this?

Is your new recruit new to the sector? Do they understand the different funding models, the importance of measuring impact, how terminology, risk, compliance, flexibility and resilience in this sector can be quite different to a commercial business? What is their connection to your cause? Consider scheduling into those first weeks – where possible – a visit to your organisation’s front line. People for Purpose also run a monthly lunchtime seminar (Head & Heart) that provides a comprehensive introductory overview of the for-purpose space, while the Australian Institute of Company Directors provides short courses on Governance in the not-for-profit context.

Finally

Consider asking your newly appointed Director for feedback on their onboarding process and tweak it for next time.