Onboard Your Board

Many companies have onboarding programs for new employees where they familiarize the new employee with the business, team, culture, etc before they start working. But I have never come across a company (or institution for that matter) that does this for their board. I am sure it happens, but I have never encountered it.

I am working with a company right now that is putting a “board onboarding” program in place. It makes so much sense. How can you expect your board to give you the best advice and understand the business if you don’t help them do that?

So when you put someone new on your board, ask that person to spend a day or two at your company. Set up “one on ones” with your entire senior team, have them attend an all hands, have them sit in on the weekly management meeting, and spend some quality time with them (dinner?) during this process. That will help your new board members immensely. They will be “up to speed” on the business from the very first board meeting instead of having to spend a year or more figuring things out.

Managing a board is hard. It takes time and lots of communication. But you can make all of that a bit easier if you start off on the right foot.


Comments (Archived):

  1. Ciarán O'Leary

    I worked on a checklist for that a while back: http://www.berlinvc.com/201… but this is a good reminder to refresh it. Not hard to do & so rewarding for both sides. I have been thinking about the same for how the board should embrace / welcome new board members, i.e. making sure they get the breathing room to bring a new DNA to the table; being open minded to them questioning old ways etc

    1. fredwilson

      wow. you were out ahead of me on this one Ciaran. It’s great to see others advocating for this.

      1. Ciarán O'Leary

        to be fair pretty sure this got me thinking a while back ago: “if you want us to listen to anything you say in these meetings, you are going to have to spend some serious time getting to know our business” http://avc.com/2010/03/roll

        1. kenberger

          …if they only knew then who Freddy would grow up to be !

    2. Twain Twain

      Thanks for sharing. At its heart, the whole founder+investor process is simply about education and learning and communicating in language both can understand.The better that both sides have strong reference frames for what information the other side needs (to understand), the better they can help each other and the more value can be generated by both.It’s all connected and symbiotic.

      1. Joe Cardillo

        Well put – and there’s something to be said for understanding that you’re creating a consistent conversation, if they only ever hear from you at board mtgs, you’re missing out on a valuable resource. I can imagine that extends to when raising subsequent rounds of funding, too.

    1. Lawrence Brass

      Darling, you have to, because you are the principal.

      1. David Semeria

        The kids hate meThe teachers hate meAnd I hate being there….

  2. William Mougayar

    Big companies do this, including setting them up with a board “buddy/coach”, or providing a board Guide. Small/mid size companies need a lightweight version of that.

    1. Eric Satz

      Yep. Had week long onboarding process with TVA.

    2. dianawudavid

      Taking the time to set expectations in a smaller company is key. Larger/listed companies have regulation and precedent for people to follow but expectations (and ability to set and communicate them) vary in small/midsize. Good to spotlight to exco.

  3. pointsnfigures

    Great idea. When I joined the National WW2 Museum Board of Trustees I had a day of onboarding. Meeting people, understanding the mission and roles. Phil Satre was the board chair at the time and personally did it. He had previously been CEO of a couple of public companies. It really helps with understanding and being able to have an impact early.

  4. Lawrence Brass

    When you show up as a member of the board, in a non board meeting scenario, say day to day activities. What reaction do you usually see? Are people relaxed or tense? Do you think team members feel free to talk without some sort of editorial approval from the CEO?I can imagine something like – “Hey, Fred is coming, tidy and clean up, if he asks about the oxygen tank leaking in the command module try no to make a fuss about it.”

  5. Thor Snilsberg

    As the founding executive director of a STEM nonprofit here in NYC, onboarding is equally important for board members in the nonprofit sector. There are a number of great resources available through organizations like the Foundation Center, NPCC.ORG, NYCON, and the United Way’s Board Serve Program may be the best. But in addition to everything Fred says about communication, dinners, meeting senior staff, the only thing I’d add is setting clear expectations and goals with each nonprofit board member. Tapping into their interests and skill sets is essential.

  6. Robert Heiblim

    Hear hear, this is a good post Fred. I have served and still serve on several boards. At times it is clear some board members are not clear on what they are there to do or up to speed on what is going on. This has always led to poor or at least slow performance which helps no one. The comment and suggestion here is spot on, thank you.

  7. William Mougayar

    And speaking of on-boarding, this Spring 2016 did not need any of it (in the East coast of NA at least). It made its way nicely and surely, on its own.Good to meet you, Spring, and happy Palm Sunday. Peace on Earth.

    1. awaldstein

      It is downright freezing in NY today.Got back from Mexico with all sorts of ugly stuff and cancelling all travel till I”m better and it gets warmer!

      1. William Mougayar

        Oh no. Time to move back to Canada ;). Pretty mild march here

        1. awaldstein

          50% in Santa Monica for the next few months so I get both for a bit.

    2. Kirsten Lambertsen

      It’s snowing where I am right now :

      1. William Mougayar

        Wow. Was sunny & 11C here.

  8. creative group

    We expect our views to be in the minority on this topic. But if any board member requires a year to figure out the business they are accepting a membership too, it reveals a lot about the company and board member. We wouldn’t invest one cent in that faking it until you make it model.

  9. Guy Lepage

    Makes a lot of sense. But being involved in my 3rd startup, I have realized that this works well with startups that are extraordinarily strong planners and communicators. Not all great companies do this well at the start. Therefore, I feel that planning, communication amongst the team needs to be there first before board onboarding can be effective for everyone involved.

  10. awaldstein

    Onboardoing is a trend for the best.For boards as you say.Mentoring some ex Google Marketing execs who are now doing in house recruiting for companies–not only specing the jobs within the teams but managing the onboarding process.New project in LA the same and a good part of it is getting to know the people as people and the things that define them out of work to build both knowledge and connection to make workl more effective.

  11. sigmaalgebra

    Naw! To have the BoD “up to speed”, have them just do ten little steps:(1) Work out a good catered lunch system — Chinese, Mexican, US Southern BBQ, German, French, Italian, US hamburgers, etc. — consider caterers, contracts, liability, clean up, and employee feedbacks, etc., work out the budgets, write a report, give a presentation, and implement the result. Then do something similar for the TGIF meetings. Also something similar for the company kitchenette, and make weekend workers feel welcome.(2) In the server farm, pull Ethernet and optical fiber cables. Get good with the crimping tools and the cable testing equipment. Work out a good system for labeling the cables and for a cable label database and associated software. Implement the software.(3) Design the new learning, lecture, and video conferencing center, with video editing, Internet connection bandwidth, software, etc.Use the center for a series of lectures and tutorials on our new, generic software project management approaches with resulting materials available on-line.(4) Use the server farm bridge system management console to diagnose and correct a case of unexplained TCP/IP session time outs.(5) Get with some ethical hackers, do a study, and report on the security of the server farm. For vulnerabilities, suggest good corrections.(6) Do good, first-cut energy budget arithmetic for the planned 10X expansion of the server farm.(7) Look at some old code that is questionable, document it, develop and run some tests, and, generally, improve, refactor, document, thoroughly test, and deploy the new version.(8) Look at the Web site log file data, 50 TB, and use that to get summary statistics on how users go from page to page and how long they stay on a page, basically get the parameters of a discrete state space, continuous time Markov process subordinated to a Poisson process. Then use that data to improve the UI/IX and ad revenue.(9) Review the math, theorems and proofs, behind the ad targeting, check for over fitting, degrees of freedom, bias, and variance, work out improvements, with theorems and proofs, write and run prototype software, design and evaluate corresponding production software, with continual monitoring, develop a good PDF using TeX, give a report, and implement the production software, with tests, monitoring, etc.(10) Evaluate the personnel policies and employee mentoring, professional development, career path, and financial security situation and report, with suggested changes.Maybe now they are “up to speed”!

  12. OurielOhayon

    you don t welcome new board members as often as employees. that s why maybe. since it more “custom” i guess the best way is just a 1×1 set of meetings to get there?

  13. jason wright

    a long shot, and an unorthadox use of Fred’s blog i know……but i want to participate in an ICO that ends at 5:30 am London time tomorrow morning and Coinbase has failed me.i need to buy and receive bitcoin in the next few hours. any ideas about where i can go to do this at such short notice on a Sunday?

  14. Drew Smith

    I’m on a board that just added a terrific operating exec after over 2 years with the same characters around the table. If 1:1s with board members aren’t part of the selection process, I’d suggest making them part of the onboarding. It’s been very valuable for us, providing insight we’d never get from group interactions. Also, I’d explicitly include a retracing of the company history to the status and forward looking challenges. The successes and failures along the way affect the mindset of the team and board.

  15. PhilipSugar

    It is to be once blessed to learn from your mistakes. Thrice blessed to learn from others.Onboarding is the most important thing you can do.

  16. mattb2518

    This is such a great and important point. It’s especially true for Independent directors, who don’t usually have the time to devote to a Board that a VC does since it’s a hobby, not a vocation.

  17. RacerRick

    One of the non-profits I’m involved with has an excellent onboarding process that we’ve worked for years to develop and refine.It’s a large board that initiates new directors every year, many of which have zero non-profit board experience.However, we’ve found that it allows the new directors to be up and running and ready to contribute at their first meeting .

  18. Doug Bolger

    Onboarding Board members is critical. And you may be missing the most valuable aspect. Onboarding is not about information – it is about behavior. The way the Board functions, makes choices, interacts matters most. Focusing on effective Board behavior means you get faster, better choices and much better strategy input and governance. Many or maybe most Boards waste the valuable time of the Board members. Board effectiveness is a game changer.

  19. Gregory Magarshak

    We do it. We call it our investor portal. I’d link to it but I don’t want to get put in the category of “general solicitation” by the FCC :)It’s definitely useful even for a small startup like ours. You can send one link to people, and they can pass it on, without long complicated emails. Most initial due-diligence has been facilitated in the portal. Updates can be pushed to all board members and interested parties. We were even thinking of open-sourcing the portal site, and letting other startups. A couple have asked for it.

  20. fredwilson

    “more shop talk””more cowbell”Both are great advice