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Have you ever considered why some boards (or senior management teams) are more effective than others? While the usual reasons may include individual skills and knowledge, attitude, strong staff support, and infrastructure, one of the most powerful drivers of board performance – and also one of the most overlooked – is the onboarding process.
Consider: how is it possible to get exceptional performance when a new board member shows up at the first meeting after having – at best – a short conversation with the chair, and a quick review of the meeting’s agenda and materials?  While an orientation meeting is better than nothing, the board member still will not hit the ground running.
If a high performance board is what is required, then so is an investment in time to make sure that this happens. Consider the following onboarding process:
  1. Build personal relationships first.  People work best when they have a personal, collegial relationship.  Not that a one-time social event will make this happen, but one must start somewhere.  The work of the board means that there will always be disagreements, so building personal trust means that tough discussions can happen respectfully.
  2. Build on the history.  New board members need to understand what has happened before: the history, issues, decisions.  They need an understanding of their responsibilities – and others’.  Without this knowledge, it is impossible to build on the good work of past boards. Without this knowledge, everything must be discovered and re-done anew. Knowledge transfer ideas include a new board member briefing book, a board orientation presentation, “job shadowing” with outgoing board members, and committee leadership prior to joining the board.
  3. Build a common team vision.  While most organizations already have a mission, vision, and values, how a particular board executes this vision will always be different.  The pressure of the first few meetings – where decisions need to be made – is not the time to synchronize.  Even worse, when there is no common vision, competing visions rush to fill the void.  Spending time on the vision means that it can be incorporated by each board member as they contribute.
  4. Set tactical priorities.  While a common vision sets the direction, agreeing on tactical priorities beforehand means a far more effective decision-making process throughout the board’s term.  No longer would each issue be debated in isolation – the agreement on priorities can help govern the conversation. (Of course, the board might change these priorities along the way, but that is a different decision.)
  5. Agree on ground rules.  These include both formal rules, as well as the social contract between board members.  Examples of ground rules include board materials being sent a week before the meeting, always coming prepared, always starting on time, the level of formality of the meeting, etc.  If the ground rules aren’t defined and agreed to, each person will make their own ground rules, leading to unproductive friction, frustration, and disappointment.
  6. Build mutual support.  No individual board member has it all: in fact, it is the diversity of perspective that provides  fertile ground for great decisions.  A supportive atmosphere where there is a willingness to step in when needed – or in times of crisis – can both help get things done, and avoid individual burn-out. A board that works together gets things done.  (And has fun.)
  7. Build beyond the board.  A high performance board engages the next tier of individuals through committee work, and engages wider audiences through communication, events, social media, and more.  This engagement is a key intelligence-gathering channel for the board.  More critically, focusing on succession is the only way to build a sustainable organization in the future.
When should all of this work happen?  Clearly it takes time, so if the goal is to have a high-performance board right from the get-go, the real work must begin 2-3 months before the mandate even starts.
This week’s action plan:  This list is just as applicable to any team: a management group, a workplace taskforce, or a volunteer committee.  This week, consider the next group you will be leading: have you thought through each of these points?  And if you are an individual joining a new group and the leader doesn’t have a formal onboarding process, what can you do to walk yourself through each step?  Your success – and the organization’s – is determined as much before you start than on day one.

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)  Professional credentials site Web strategy, technology, and development  Interviews with the nation’s thought-leaders


In just about every organization, the focus is on action.  The connotations of words such as goals, objectives, action plans, and status updates are all positive, and are viewed as necessary for organizational, professional, and personal success.   (Even these Tipsheets, some 600 of them, each end with This Week’s Action Plan). 

Yet is the path to achievement exclusively achieved through action?  Or is action necessary, but not necessarily sufficient?

Said another way, if the focus is on action, urgency, and getting things done, is something being lost in the process? Can an organization (or you as an individual) do better with less action, and more of something else? 

Strangely, the answer is yes.  We can spend time thinking – the most underrated activity around.  We typically don’t do it for several reasons: it’s hard.  We are out of practice.  We’re stretched for time.  And there is a bias against it: Thinking looks strangely like “sitting around”… doing nothing.

So what is the case for spending time thinking?  A few of the benefits:

  • Setting direction:  How do we know what we are doing will lead us to where we need to go?  Explicit time on planning ensures that we are taking the most direct, and effective route to our goals.
  • Connecting the dots:  We live and work in a complex world; when we act quickly, we may not consider the implications on existing processes and people.  Thinking time helps us identify these moving parts, and build better alignment.  It also provides an opportunity to incorporate others’ (better) perspectives. 
  • Motivation: The pause of thinking helps answer the questions of why and how, and provides an energizing mental break that makes future action more meaningful – and often, more effective.   
  • Creativity:  Intuitive leaps and creative solutions are only possible when time is allocated to them.    Time opens the gates of possibility.
  • Internalization:  Whether it be a high-level mission statement or a colleague’s new idea, thinking time allows for internalization – the first step in using the information within your own thinking. 
  • Risk reduction:  While most people would not willingly jump off a cliff, sometimes unthinking action is doing precisely that.  Time allows us to both consider any pitfalls, and increase the probability of successful action. 

Yet despite these benefits, many people do not have the time to actually sit and think.  Or are uninspired about scheduling a block of time in their calendar to spend time thinking.  Here’s the good news: there are literally hundreds of more inspiring (and practical) ways to spend time thinking.  Here are 11 of them: 

  1. Hire a coach: Too many leaders spend time in the business, not on the business. Regular coaching forces thinking time, with the added bonus of external accountability. 
  2. Mentoring:  Helping others helps you process from a different perspective.  Being mentored opens you to different approaches to solving your problems.   
  3. Keeping a journal, or blogging:  Writing is really the process of organizing your thoughts so others can more easily understand.  Regular writing forces regular thinking. 
  4. Teaching: Thinking happens both in the preparation and in the delivery of your content.  The interaction with students also exposes you to different ways of thinking, which is valuable in and of itself.
  5. Public speaking: While the delivery of a speech is certainly important, the vast majority of time is actually spent in the preparation: research, structuring, and writing. 
  6. Formal education:  Sadly, most people stop their formal education upon graduation, perhaps under the impression that they have learned all they ever can learn. Attending professional development courses, earning a professional certification, or pursuing part-time graduate studies institutionalizes thinking time, with the double benefit of getting exposed to new ideas and new people.
  7. Go outside the box:  This may mean registering for personal interest courses, reading books outside of your professional sphere (history, science, biographies, etc) or seeking exposure to other cultures or languages.  A new (or different) stimulus will help you look at existing issues in a new way.  
  8. While you exercise: Beyond the physical benefits of exercise, most people have experienced that “big” problems often become less daunting after exercise than before.  While your body is working hard at exercise, your mind is working hard on solving the problems of the day.
  9. Early morning: Schedule time early in the morning, before the bustle of the day.  (Here is a challenge: schedule thinking time from 6-7am each morning for a month – your return on this investment will be more than you can imagine.)
  10. Writing weeks: Schedule an extended time period away to focus on larger, deeper thinking projects.  (This is when I tackle book-writing.)
  11. In transit: Whether it be in public transit, long-distance business travel, or in your car, transit is a gift of time: why not use it to listen to thoughtful podcasts or keep a journal?  (About 50% of these Tipsheets are written on the subway!)

The beauty of thinking is that we are all fully equipped with all of the tools we need: our brain.  It’s just a matter of using it.

This week’s action plan:  Thinking may be hard if you’re out of practice, so schedule a specific time to do it this week, and each week going forward. That’s it.  

Marketing Insight #1:  Like our body’s muscular systems, the more the brain is exercised, the better and more efficient it becomes.  If an organization truly wishes to operate at peak efficiency, then it must not just hire smart people, but also require them to think.  

Marketing Insight #2:  Notwithstanding the importance of thinking time, the case for action cannot be overstated.  Getting things done is difficult, and thus too many organizations (and people) are paralyzed by inaction.  The best outcome is always when both thinking and action occur together, and when an organization’s culture rewards both.  

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)
:  Professional credentials site
.com: Web strategy, technology, and development
:  Interviews with the nation’s thought-leaders


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Thumbnail image for Exceeding Expectations

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