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The ultimate board development cheat sheet

So you were inspired by our last blog to put a board development plan in place but you don’t know where to start? This cheat sheet will help you put a structure on your board development plans.

What does board development mean?

We take board development to mean anything which helps your board undertake their role more effectively. This might include initiatives such as

  • Formal training
  • Briefings
  • Papers, magazines or articles
  • Sharing experiences
  • Being challenged appropriately

Effective board development includes:

Ensure the board has set a clear vision, values and strategy

You won’t know what skills you need in the boardroom if you don’t have a clear idea of where you want to be, and what you need to do to get there. Your organisation’s vision and strategy will determine the skills, knowledge, experience and behaviours (hereafter shortened to skills) needed by the board to help get you there.

Ensure the board has written role descriptions

A role description outlines what the board and its members should be doing. It is surprising how many boards do not have a agreed role descriptions. As they form the basis of how to do any job, it is really important that each board member knows and understands their role.

Determine the skills needed at board level to deliver on the organisation’s strategy

When you know where you want the organisation to go, and what you need the board to do to add value to that process, you can then determine the skills needed at board level to get the organisation there. For instance, if your strategy is to break into a new market, will you need board members with specific experience in that market? If you are going through a downturn in sales, do you need expertise in increasing your customer base or in keeping costs down? While the role may not change, the skills required to discharge board members’ duties effectively will change depending on organisational strategy.

Conduct a skills audit of existing board members

Objectively assess the skills of current board members against those which you have determined you need. Is your board weak in a specific area like finance, IT, marketing or market knowledge? By mapping current skills against desired skills, you will start to build up a picture of what the learning and development needs of the board are.

Plan how to address skills gaps

The board chair needs to consider the skills gaps of its individual members as well as the development needs of the whole board.  Training programmes are just one way of addressing skills gaps.  A tailored board development workshop as part of the annual Away Day is an effective way of building team cohesion while also learning about key topics.

Determining the best course of action may be influenced by

  • The number of board members requiring development in any specific area
  • The nature of the skills gap
  • The desirability of providing board team development opportunities
  • The logistics involved in getting board members together for development purposes

Communicate the board development plan

Make sure everyone knows what the plan is, and what is expected from them in relation to implementing it. Board members must commit to the plan, and be available on the dates and times agreed. Each element of the plan should be assessed as it is implemented so that improvements may be incorporated into the next phase.

Ensure you have a strong induction programme

In addition to developing the skills of existing board members, boards may introduce new skills by recruiting new board members. An induction programme will help them hit the ground running, by bringing them up to speed on organisational history, strategy and the requirements of their board member role.

Provide an opportunity for annual refresher training

Even the most experienced board member benefits from an annual refresher looking at all aspects of the board’s role. This might be a half-hour session before a board meeting, or attendance at formal training like Leading Governance’s ‘basics for board members’ training. It may be an integral part of your annual board Away Day. Get the most out of any refresher training by ensuring it is conducted by a governance specialist, and is tailored to your own board.

Carry out annual reviews

Each board member should have the opportunity to meet with the Chair on an annual basis to discuss the contribution they have made to the board in the previous 12 months, plans for the next year, and learning and development needs.  It doesn’t have to be a formal Performance Appraisal – try our ‘Review of Contribution’ as a first step in the review journey.

Board development is vital to the ongoing success of any organisation. Following these steps will set you on the path of continual development. We’d love to know your experiences, and what skills gaps you have. Please leave a comment below.