What board engagement means and how to get more of it

10 min read
Aug 1, 2023 12:04:59 PM

The concept of board engagement is not just a theoretical discussion; it is a crucial factor that can make or break a board. Ensuring that board members are fully engaged and invested in their roles is essential to the success of an organisation. In this whitepaper, we will explore some of the ways that CEOs and Board Directors can increase board engagement and create a more effective and efficient board.

It starts at recruitment...

The process of board engagement should begin at the recruitment stage. Before new directors are appointed to the board it is important to consider what type of board engagement can be had with potential new directors.

One effective approach is to invite potential directors to attend one or two meetings as observers prior to putting their name forward as a potential candidate. This can give them a feel for the organisation and help them understand the role of the board more fully.

Another approach is to invite potential directors to sit on a board committee that suits their particular skill set and diversity of thought. This can help them to engage more deeply with the organisation and to understand the challenges and opportunities facing the board.

In addition to these approaches, some organisations have started running pre-induction sessions for those people who are thinking of applying to join a board. These sessions provide potential board members with an opportunity to learn about the organisation and the commitment needed to serve on the board. This can be particularly useful for boards that have a membership of professionals, trades, or members of the community who may have little or no experience of being on a board.

Here are 10 more ways a board can do to engage with potential directors at the recruitment stage: 

  1. Clearly define the role and responsibilities of the director Provide potential directors with a detailed job description that outlines the expectations and responsibilities of the role.
  2. Highlight the board’s values and culture Provide information on the values and culture of the board to ensure a good fit with potential directors.
  3. Offer opportunities for potential directors to meet current board members Facilitate opportunities for potential directors to meet current board members to ask questions and get a better understanding of the board’s operations.
  4. Share the organisation’s strategic plan Share the organisation’s strategic plan with potential directors to give them insight into the organisation’s future direction.
  5. Provide financial and other relevant documents Share financial and other relevant documents with potential directors to enable them to understand the organisation’s financial health and other key areas.
  6. Offer a site visit Offer a site visit to potential directors to provide them with an opportunity to see the organisation in action. Provide a mentor or buddy system
  7. Provide a mentor or buddy system to potential directors to help them navigate the board and the organisation. 
  8. Offer training and development opportunities to potential directors to help them acquire the skills and knowledge needed to be an effective board member. For example, the Indigenous Allied Health Association (one of my favourite organisations of all time) trains potential Board members over a 12 month period
  9. Be transparent about the recruitment process Be clear about the recruitment process with potential directors, including timelines and expectations.
  10. Solicit feedback from potential directors Request feedback from potential directors on the recruitment process and their experience to help improve the process for future candidates.

... and continues during the induction process 

Board engagement should continue during the induction process. One of the most effective ways to engage new board members is to give them an opportunity to spend time with staff. This can help them to understand the business operations of the organisation and to gain the skills needed to enable them to contribute to the board effectively.

Here are five things a new board member can do to engage with key staff at the induction stage of their board appointment: 

  1. Schedule one-on-one meetings with key staff - A new board member should take the time to meet with key staff members individually to learn about their roles, goals and challenges. This is a great way to build relationships and establish trust early on.
  2. Ask for feedback -  It’s important for a new board member to solicit feedback from key staff members to understand what is working well and what needs improvement. This can help the board member identify areas where they can make a positive impact and also demonstrate their willingness to listen and collaborate.
  3. Provide context - A new board member should make an effort to provide context for their appointment and the goals of the board. This can help key staff members understand the larger organisational vision and how their work contributes to it.
  4. Share personal values and priorities -  It’s important for a new board member to share their personal values and priorities to help build rapport with key staff members. This can also help align everyone’s efforts towards common goals.
  5. Attend team meetings and events -  A new board member should make an effort to attend team meetings and events to get to know key staff members and show their support for the team. This can help build relationships and foster a positive culture within the organisation.

Board engagement with itself 

Register of Interests 

Board engagement is not only about engaging with staff; it is also about engaging with other board members. One of the key points to consider is ensuring that all directors have access to or copies of the register of interests of their fellow directors. There are five reasons why this can improve engagement among board members.

Here are 5 reasons why: 

  1. Transparency - Having access to the register of interests ensures transparency among directors, allowing them to understand potential conflicts of interest that could impact the decision-making process.
  2. Effective communication - Having access to the register of interests enables directors to communicate openly with each other, increasing the chances of constructive discussion and debate that can result in better decisions.
  3. Building trust - Sharing the register of interests promotes trust among directors and gives them the confidence to make informed decisions for the benefit of the organisation and its stakeholders.
  4. Compliance - Having access to the register of interests helps directors comply with legal and regulatory requirements that require them to disclose their interests and conflicts of interest.
  5. Good governance - Acquiring access to the register of interests is a key component of good governance, promoting accountability and responsible decision-making that protects the interests of the organisation, its shareholders and its stakeholders.

Background or CV. 

Every board member should also have a CV of all the other board members so they can understand each board member’s background and what skills and experience they bring to the table. There are three key reasons why this can add to board engagement.

  1. Improved communication - When directors have access to each other’s background or CV it can help to improve communication and collaboration. They can better understand each other’s strengths and expertise, leading to more informed decision-making and problem-solving.
  2. Enhanced board diversity - Having access to the backgrounds of fellow directors can help to ensure a diverse and balanced board. They can evaluate the skills, experiences and perspectives of their peers, leading to a more effective and well-rounded board.
  3. Increased accountability - When directors have access to each other’s background or CV it promotes accountability and transparency. Directors can hold each other to a higher standard and ensure that all members of the board are contributing effectively. This ultimately leads to a more efficient and productive board.


Personal aspirations 

At the start of each year, the chair should sit down with each of the directors and ask them what they want to get out of their next years’ service on the board. That will enable the director to say something like: Well, look I’d like to meet some politicians, or I’d like to be involved in the development of x, y, and z, or I’d really like to understand the impact of cybersecurity and data breach analysis and how that work’s. This can help directors to engage more fully with the board and to understand their role and responsibilities more fully. It is then the role of the Governance (or equivalent) board committee to enact and monitor these aspirations.

Being strategic

The greatest engagement among board members is when they are willing to be personally strategic. This means asking questions rather than making statements. It means no fixed point of view – willing to look at options rather than try to make the world fit their fixed opinion of how things should be. It means willing to be the question and function from curiosity and possibility, not be or hold onto the answer. It means willing to receive information without judgement and look at it as it is – not as good or bad, right or wrong. And most importantly, it means that the boards’s vision statement is at the centre of all discussions and interactions, so that directors engaging with each other always hold the vision as the focus for inquiry and interaction.

Engaging before meetings 

Four or five days prior to a board meeting, directors are requested to attend a half-hour session where they ask questions to the Chair and CEO about clarifications on any of the information within the board papers that they’ve been sent.

Board engagement with key executives 

Board engagement with key executives is crucial to the success of the organisation. In particular, the quality of the reports provided by these key executives to the board is essential to ensuring that the board can make informed decisions. These reports need to answer the ‘so what’ question and provide the board with the information it needs to engage in powerful, forward-looking strategic discussions among themselves and with the organisations key executives.

Key executives need to be trained or given experience in having these conversations with directors. There are still too many boards that do not allow key executives to attend board meetings, which is a major red flag. Boards cannot fulfil their duties effectively without access to expert inside knowledge.

Once a year or possibly every six months, it’s important for key executives and the Board to sit down and ask themselves; how can we work together to ensure we’ve got proper, timely reporting? How are things going? How are we getting the information? Is there an easy way for us to do it? Can we collect it? The key executives can then check in with the directors about what could be better synthesised in the reports the executives are providing.

Unfortunately, most Board reports don’t provide sufficient guidance for the directors to actually have a strategic focus on the questions that they should be asking. Good reports can help them do that.

When reading a board meeting pack, the director needs to be able to focus on the really important information that provides them with insight and is the springboard for strategic discussions at the Board level. The directors should be looking for the top-level conversations they need to have as a Board. They don’t want to be distracted by copious amounts of information that doesn’t address the ‘so what?’ question.

The board and key executives need to act and engage as a true partnership, as the Leadership Team for the organisation, each with different responsibilities but with a built-in trust that is supported by ongoing evidence.

It’s important that the key executives understand that the role of the board is not to monitor; in fact, our view of the board is that its role is to ‘make the choices that create the future for the communities we serve’. So, therefore, Board reports need to help the directors know what the choices might be, how they might create the future, and they’ve got to take into account within the communities they serve. So, any Board report should address these key issues.

Board engagement with key stakeholders 

Finally, board engagement with key stakeholders is essential. Boards need to broaden their understanding of the organisation and their sector by engaging with a variety of stakeholders. This can include customers, suppliers, regulators, and other relevant parties. The board only knows what the board knows, so it’s vital to broaden the scope of information and insight provided to the board.

There are many ways for the Board to engage with key stakeholders. Here are just a few. 

  • Strategic planning - Invite two or three key stakeholders to participate in your strategic planning sessions. This both provides access to a broader skill set and experiences and further enhances engagement with that stakeholder.
  • Strategic insight - To tap into emerging strategic issues that the board may otherwise miss, invite a key stakeholder who is strategic in outlook to discuss with the Board what they see as the 2 key strategic issues for that stakeholder in the next five to ten years. The stakeholder is also invited to discuss the potential implications they see for your organisation in the next five years from these identified strategic issues. Other key discussions may be actually engaging with stakeholders to get a sense of their culture is like and whether there any important key factors that they feel the board is missing, from your point of view as a key stakeholder.
  • Risk - Every three years, engage with key stakeholders regarding their view on the main risks the board may be facing in the next few years. Map this against the boards’s risk register to see if anything major might be missing.
  • Evaluation - When carrying out a board evaluation, ask key stakeholders for their view on how well the board is performing in the areas that a key stakeholder consider to be a priority e.g. vision-drive, strategic focus, risk, culture, stakeholder engagement.
  • Funding - In some countries, boards (particularly in the arts sector) have been relegated the responsibility of raising funds for their organisation, primarily through the traditional ‘give, get or get off framework’. This is not a common function of the majority of boards.

In conclusion, board engagement is a crucial factor in the success of any organisation. CEOs and Board Directors should consider implementing the above strategies to increase engagement and to create a more effective and efficient board. By doing so, they can ensure that the organisation is well-run, with engaged and invested board members working towards a common goal.

If you're looking for a tool to streamline your Board processes, check out BoardPro - an all-in-one software solution designed specifically for Boards and busy CEOs!

Schedule a demo with our team today and begin to experience a whole new way of meeting.

BoardPro demonstration

Get Email Notifications