How To Implement Orientation Training For Your CU’s New Directors

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No one except bats enjoy living left in the dark. Ok, there are some other nocturnal animals, but this is not about them. This is about directors, new directors, who want to contribute to your credit union’s success and to see positive results. Rather than wait years in most cases, an orientation program can provide insights that take them out of the dark.

This is the third of a three-part series examining the roles of the credit union board. Here are the final elements of a comprehensive orientation program and some thoughts on implementation.

Your Governance Polices

No matter how detailed your governance policies, orientation needs to focus on the sections most directly associated with the performance of the individual director as a member of the board, and as a member of the board/management team.

Above, we already covered a specific section of governance, the expectations you have for individual directors. Now, we deal with the rest of governance policies.

New recruits need encouragement to read and become familiar with the entire body of governance policies. Let me be clear what I mean by governance. Governance policies govern the board and the authority relationships with management. Governance policies do not include products and services, rates, personnel policies–what I call operating policies.

Individuals work best when they can place their individual efforts into context with others around them. That means knowing what authorities remain with the board and what the board has delegated to committees and management.

Authority relationships differ at each organization with which your new credit union director may have been involved. An orientation program can avoid the inevitable confusion and progress-stifling questions that come up because your board has delegated more authority to management than is in the new recruit’s experience.

Bond And Insurance

Perhaps the most import aspect of the bond and insurance is director liability coverage. This is a chance to reinforce the director behaviors and board activities that conform to fiduciary duties and thereby avoid having to make claims. It also is an opportunity to become familiar with the protection for e-commerce, operational liabilities, and embezzlement, for example.

The Credit Union’s Plans

Now that a new director is on the so-called “train,” she needs to know where it is going. As with other items mentioned already, this may be one of the documents provided to the nominee before election or appointment.

It is best for people to join an organization that is headed to places the recruit believes in and will support.

This is a proposal to provide what I call Tier I and Tier II plans initially. These tiers are the largest plans set for the longest times: values, mission, vision, and strategies–all direction, no means, and no numbers. Secondarily, the new director needs to participate in holding the CEO accountable. To do that, provide the business plan with long-range result areas the board has reviewed and monitors on a regular basis.

Let’s be clear that I am not suggesting that a new recruit be barred from influencing the direction for that would obviate one of the greatest reasons for having new people join the board. What I am suggesting is that if a credit union has invested time and energy in creating plans, providing them to new recruits enables them to become a part of the future in harmony with the developers of the plan.

Incumbents need to listen carefully to the questions new directors ask about the plans. If the questions seem critical, pursue their experiences and thoughts–maybe you missed something in setting the plans. What you are going for is a new team member who wants to help the organization achieve its plans. To achieve requires enthusiasm. Enthusiasm requires understanding.

What you hope for is someone so interested in your future that they eagerly, and appropriately, want to influence that future.

Previous Board Decisions

Not all board decisions rise to the level of strategy or governance policies. For this reason, have each new recruit review the board’s minutes. Two years’ worth should do it. The minutes provide insights into the board’s culture and concerns.

If your board adopts operating policies such as personnel, product rates, and product features, I recommend reading the minutes retrograde–from recent to earlier. The reason is that the reader starts with the latest version and can only glance at replaced versions.

Legal Issues And Insights

During the annual audit, the CPA writes a letter to your corporate attorney. The letter requests disclosure of any legal issues in process or known about. This is the standard I suggest you use to inform new directors. This is also one of those areas that could be disclosed to new directors before they agree to appointment or nomination.

Introductions To Senior Staff

From conversations I have had, it appears that most organizations include meeting the CEO’s senior staff. It makes sense. In many cases, senior staff will attend most board meetings. In some cases senior staff members are in the succession plan either as CEO candidates or at least stand-ins until a successor is found.

This introduction is the beginning of an important relationship–an appropriate relationship within your culture and governance practices. The introduction needs to be made by the CEO or the director/mentor and clarify at that time the value and boundaries of the relationship.

Tour Of The Office

To be complete, I cannot leave out something that is commonly done. Call it a “nickel tour,” call it the “two-bit” tour, it is a natural thing to do. This tour serves a purpose. It makes a newcomer feel welcomed into the bosom and bowels of the organization, especially places that members do not normally see. It engenders a sense of trust in the new volunteer. Seeing the formerly secret parts makes a connection.

Final Thoughts

Some of the information revealed in a comprehensive orientation could and should have already been presented to the recruit as a candidate. When a person is sought by you for appointment or seeks nomination, they are not yet legally under any confidentiality standard. Obtain the nominee’s signature on a confidentiality or non-disclosure agreement before sharing any of the above described, or any other internal documents. Have the credit union’s legal counsel develop the agreement to use.

Before implementing any orientation plan, let top management and the incumbent directors review the planned program. What I mean is not all the documentation itself, but the outline. The outline I provided may be used as your outline and modified to suit your needs.

By disclosing the proposed program and getting buy-in from the existing directors, you may find that a few would like to tag along to receive information and insights not available to them previously. This can go a long way to reinforcing the teamwork of the board. You may also receive some great feedback on things to add to it or exclude.

Have management review it to be sure they understand what they may have to develop to deliver, or themselves deliver. Middle management’s views on the depth of the information can be a big help in making the above outline serve your needs best.

Dan Clark is a governance and planning facilitator and coach. Reach him at dan and


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