Adding Value in Your First 100 Days
When we talk about being a great board member, we often talk about board members who add value (amongst other attributes) to their board and organisation. Value in this context largely relates to the positive benefits flowing to the board and organisation because of the addition of your unique set of skills, experiences, and other qualities to the existing bench strength of the board and organisation.
This value is displayed and delivered by different methods that depend on a range of factors. The value you bring to one board will be different (even only slightly) to another board. Your mission is to know what value to bring and how to bring it on each board. It’s something that will take time for you to know just how to hit the sweet spot.
When you’re a baby board member you can feel like a little bit of a useless appendage when you don’t feel like you’re delivering value.
There are ways in which you can add value during your first period of time on a board whilst simultaneously learning the lay of the land and integrating with your new colleagues. Here are five for you to consider:
1. Ask Questions.
Questions are fantastic ways for you to learn more about what you’re discovering during your learning phase on a new board. Questions are also fantastic ways for others to learn. Framed well, they provide the question-receiver and the response listeners (i.e. the other board members) with a point of reflection on what they may already know or think they know. This moment of awareness can illuminate opportunities to do things differently, confirm that things are being done well, or whether there is more to learn.
At this point on a new board you can easily get away with as many ‘dumb questions’ as you can come up with (without completely derailing the board meeting). Use this freedom – judiciously – to your advantage!
During a new period on a board, you have the added benefit of being quieter than you normally are (in a similar setting) and normally will be on this board in the future. Use this opportunity to watch and notice the unspoken behaviours of board members individually and as a team. Notice the unique personalities and preferences of each board member, particularly the Chair. Notice the board culture. Pay attention to how the CEO (or equivalent) acts and responds to questions.
This data is going to help you to interact and adapt to your fellow board members, and within the board group. You will navigate the different personalities with ease and adapt your interactions with them to get the best out of them and out of you. In the boardroom, this people stuff matters more than governance box-ticking. Get the people stuff right and the governance tasks will be easy.
3. Identify your knowledge gaps.
After working through your board induction and attending a few board meetings, you will begin to identify gaps in your knowledge of the board, the business, and the organisation – things that may have been missed or forgotten about in the induction program. Make a note of these knowledge gaps and create a plan to close them.
Being well-informed when making decisions is executing your director’s duties. And if something that you believe is critical is missing from the induction program, pass on that information to the necessary person to ensure it gets updated. That’s certainly an easy and valuable way to contribute as a fresh board member.
Of course, do not sit on your hands awaiting an arbitrary deadline to pass (e.g. 100 days) before you contribute at a board or committee meeting. If the opportunity presents itself, please contribute to the discussion or decision. You were bought onto this board for a reason (remember that) and there aren’t any rules around when you can or have to start adding value to your new board. If you still feel like you are missing some important information, share that and still share your perspective (with the necessary qualifiers / caveats).
5. Be realistic.
As you’ve probably realised, 100 days is an arbitrary time period. It sounds snappy, but it really is just a proxy for ‘that first period of time on a new board when you are fresh and feel really dumb and awkward and you question how you even ended up here’. As such, be realistic with how much you can do to really get to that familiar feeling on this new board.
If you’re only meeting once every two months, 100 days is not a very long time! Even meeting once a month does not give you a lot of time to really feel settled, so extend your timeline to whatever is reasonable and realistic for your circumstances (considering you probably also have a full-time job and a life).
Another thing to be realistic about is being ‘comfortable’. You may not get there for a while! And a new board is SUPER uncomfortable at the beginning. The best thing you can do is get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
You’re only a new board member on a new board once. It’s a perspective that you will never have again, and I encourage you to see this time for the opportunity that it presents to you and to your board and fellow board members, and to use it wisely and effectively.
For more on establishing yourself as a new board member, listen to my conversation on the Her Ambitious Career podcast, check out my podcast episode on how to navigate your first 100 days on a new board, and this article on board self-induction.