The performance of board members is under ever-growing scrutiny, and that is displayed by the results of PwC’s Annual Corporate Directors Survey from 2022. It found that 48% of directors think one or more of their colleagues on the board should be replaced. In addition, 19% recommend replacing two or more of their fellow board members.
One of the main drivers of positive board performance is engagement, ensuring your directors give their all when preparing for meetings, in the boardroom and when following up with actions. Implementing a board engagement plan plots out the steps you can take to help your directors maintain focus and achieve the best results for your organisation.
This article explores the importance of board engagement, how to create a plan and other advice to maintain engagement from board members.
The importance of board engagement today
Boards have always held a high level of responsibility, and that is only increasing with time. There are a number of reasons why they cannot afford to carry disengaged directors in the current climate. These include:
Activist campaigns slowed in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, as investors gave issuers time and space to regroup and navigate the tricky waters they found themselves in. However, activism has seen a resurgence since, and boards must be fully engaged to prepare and mitigate these attacks.
Companies are facing more regulatory challenges than ever before, as legislators around the world seek to protect the markets and plan for a more sustainable future. In the EU, the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) is one of the recent pieces of legislation introduced that is set to create a significant amount of work not just for compliance teams but also for boards.
This increased compliance burden requires directors to understand the consequences of these new laws on their specific business in order to plan how to mitigate the related risks.
As more employees work remotely, the Internet of Things evolves and criminals become more sophisticated, the cybersecurity threat increases. Boards must be at the forefront of the company’s mitigation planning. They must require all members to be fully engaged to help avoid the financial, reputational and even criminal fallout from becoming the victim of a cyberattack.
What is a board engagement plan?
A board engagement plan is a road map that sets out how the board can better engage its members in its work. It can feature a set of procedures or steps to take that encourage focus and dedication from directors, ensuring that they commit fully to their work with the board.
By creating a board engagement plan, you formalise your approach to ensuring directors contribute fully to all aspects of their role within the board, from collaborating and preparing between meetings, to being involved with proactive discussions in the boardroom and completing actions derived from the meeting decisions in good time and to the best of their ability.
How to create a board engagement plan
1. Assess current engagement levels
Before you can devise a plan to increase engagement, you need to understand where your current directors stand in terms of their engagement with the process. You can survey directors on how they view their own engagement levels and those of their colleagues. Another way to gauge engagement is using iBabs’ board portal, which allows you to monitor engagement levels in the administrative dashboard.
It displays data such as the hours each board member spends in meetings and the percentage of documents that they read. This allows you to understand who is engaging most in the board meeting process and flag potential issues with some members that you can seek to remedy before they detach from the work of the board too much.
The nature of your plan will depend on the results of your analysis of the current situation. The information you extract allows you to determine whether engagement is a serious issue or not in your organisation.
2. Understand board composition
With a balanced board composition, you open the door for more varied and challenging discussions that engage directors. When the company board is comprised of a large number of individuals with the same gender, race and age, as well as similar backgrounds and experience, there is less likely to be much diversity of thought and it is easy for directors to disengage and let others speak on their behalf.
With a wider demographic spread, you add different ways of thinking to the boardroom and reap the benefit of being able to approach problems from multiple angles. This also requires directors to become more engaged, defending their point, learning from others and working with their colleagues to create effective solutions.
3. Identify board engagement goals
The analysis of your current engagement levels will determine the goals that you set for your board engagement plan.
One goal might be to improve meeting attendance if you find that directors are absent more than you would expect. But you could also seek to improve collaboration amongst directors between meetings, shorten the length of times that your meetings last in order to help maintain focus or ensure that board members are opening and reading the documents that you send out.
Each board’s goals will be different and dependent on the issues they have identified within their current structure. However, even boards where directors are generally engaged can add functionality to their board processes that provide additional gains. For example, distributing minutes for the previous meeting in advance of the next meeting to allow board members time to consider the contents and spot any errors that require amending.
4. Gather feedback and research
Before you create your finalised plan, canvas the opinion of the board to understand where they think the priorities should lie regarding better engagement. This provides an inside view from the board and allows you to understand challenges to better engagement that you might not have considered.
Allow board members to submit their suggestions confidentially and use them to ensure that your plan is likely to be effective in creating an engaged and effective board.
Another way to discover aspects of your processes that are underperforming is to research the effectiveness of your meetings. Take iBabs’ Meeting Excellence Assessment Report to understand how your board performs across the whole meeting workflow and where you can improve. This can feed into your action plan going forward.
5. Implement your plan
When you are satisfied that your plan will address the factors currently affecting board engagement, you can implement it and make any changes to your processes that are required. This might include restructuring the preparation phase of meetings or utilising a board portal to centralise and streamline the way you run your meetings.
Provide training to all stakeholders to ensure they understand what is required of them and what you want to achieve from adjusting the board’s procedures. They should also receive tutorials on how to use any new software that you introduce to ensure they are up to speed in the shortest possible time frame.
In addition, monitor the changes that you make to help the board keep on track to meet your engagement goals.
Tips to keep directors engaged
Provide an exceptional onboarding experience
Onboarding can determine how engaged directors are with their work on the board. Following a substandard onboarding process, they might struggle to achieve a connection with their colleagues and feel like an outsider. This will hinder their engagement efforts.
By ensuring you create a comprehensive onboarding experience, you help them better understand their role and responsibilities. In addition, you make them feel like a valued participant and create bonds with their fellow directors. By establishing a cohesive team, each member is more likely to make the necessary effort to aid the whole.
Encourage member-to-member communication
Communication is key to facilitating this bond between team members. Board members might not be in the same location as each other on a daily basis, but regular interaction between them helps foster the team aspect and aids collaboration on board matters.
Use a board portal on which all directors can access documents in the cloud, such as the agenda and committee reports. They can edit and amend information and discuss relevant points about the matters at hand. This helps them arrive at meetings better prepared and benefiting from momentum from the discussions.
Host casual events
By bringing together board members outside of a work context, they are more likely to view their board duties as something more than just a minimum obligation. They get to know their colleagues as people and feel part of something bigger than just the formal aspect of their role.
Create an inclusive environment
Making the boardroom inclusive encourages all members to have their say and make their point. The board chair should be conscious of who has spoken and who has not, guiding the discussion so one or two directors do not take over and bringing in quieter members for their input.
The board should be shown to respect the opinions of all contributors, rather than rejecting suggestions out of hand.
What is the difference between board engagement and board involvement?
Board engagement and board involvement are terms that are often used interchangeably but have subtle differences in application:
|Board Engagement||Refers to the active participation of board members in the affairs of the organisation. It goes beyond just being present at meetings. |
Engaged board members are emotionally and intellectually committed. They contribute meaningfully to discussions, understand the organisation’s mission and goals and are proactive in making decisions that will further these goals.
|Board Involvement||Refers to the act of attending meetings, being on committees or taking part in board events. However, it does not necessarily imply the level of commitment and proactive contribution that engagement does. |
A board member can be involved by merely being present and participating at a surface level without being deeply engaged.
How often should board members engage with each other?
The frequency of board engagement depends on various factors including the nature of the organisation, its size, the industry it operates in and any specific challenges it might be facing. However, below is a typical timetable.
- Regular board meetings: Most boards have regular meetings, which is a baseline for engagement.
- Annual retreats: Many boards have an annual retreat, providing an opportunity for more in-depth strategic planning.
- Special meetings: When there are specific issues or challenges, boards might need to meet more frequently.
- Ongoing communication: Besides formal meetings, ongoing communication is essential. This might be through email, phone calls or a board portal.
It is important to strike a balance - too few engagements might mean the board is not providing effective governance, while too many might be impractical and result in burnout.
What are some signs of poor board member engagement?
- Lack of participation in discussions: When board members consistently remain silent during meetings and do not contribute to discussions.
- Low attendance: Frequently missing meetings or events without a valid reason.
- Lack of preparation for meetings: Coming to meetings without having reviewed the agenda or background materials.
- Lack of follow-through: Not completing tasks or following through on action items assigned during board meetings.
- Disconnection from the mission: A lack of understanding or connection with the organisation's mission and goals.
- Reluctance to advocate for the organisation: Not being willing to serve as an ambassador for the organisation in the community.
- Resistance to new ideas: Being unwilling to consider new strategies or approaches.
- Over-reliance on executive staff: Leaning too heavily on the executive team for decision-making, rather than actively engaging in governance.
Your board engagement plan is a key element in your efforts to ensure the board is working to its full potential and in the best interests of the company. By evaluating your current engagement levels and the effectiveness of your meetings, you can create procedures and implement new tools to support board members to be the best that they can be. iBabs’ board portal helps you track directors’ engagement and allows you to create workflows that stimulate participation and engagement. Request a demo today to find out how iBabs can help you create an engaged and effective board.