Make It Happen
My Tipsheets are chock full of ideas. They are all aimed at translating knowledge into a quick, action-oriented 60-second nugget.

First Name:
Last Name:
Tipsheet Archive
Randall's Resources
Whenever I speak or write, I often prepare extra "bonus" materials.
Enter the Resource Code to access this special content:
Resource Code:
Try this example Resource Code: eventplanning


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


Profitable non-profits

by Randall Craig on January 30, 2007

Filed in: Blog, Make It Happen Tipsheet,

Tagged as: ,

I recently met with a newly minted senior executive, who got to where he is because of his business acumen, aggressive drive, and great relationship skills. But now that he is in a position of real responsibility, is he missing a critical ingredient for success? Consider: he has no board experience. And his network has only been developed through his professional contacts – he has no community network.

With each new job (and as you rise through the hierarchy), the skills that you will need to succeed will almost certainly change. How will he develop the skills to be considered for his next job?

When many people consider volunteering, what first comes to mind is going door-to-door collecting for a charity, or helping out at a local school. While these are clearly important activities, there is another type of volunteer option that is also important: sitting on a not-for-profit board or committee. The benefits to the organization are obvious: they get to borrow your business acumen to solve their toughest challenges, all at zero financial cost. For you, the return on your time investment is also high:

  • Development of board-level skills.
  • Development of functional skills beyond your regular area of expertise.
  • Development of a network of contacts who have seen you “work”, but not at work.
  • Psychological benefits from “giving back to society”.

With these benefits, how do you determine which organization to approach? Use these criteria:

Impact: Look for organizations where you can make a difference: it will help your motivation, and you can later point to the achievement on your resume.

Network: Look for organizations where you interact with people with different skills, and whose networks are completely different than your own. Over time, you will learn their skills, and their network will become yours.

Passion: What interests you: children or older folks? A cultural/religious group or a civic group? A particular cause or one that is generic? etc. Look for organizations where their is a natural connection with your interests: it is hard to be excited without some connection.

The greatest benefit of your involvement is the difference it will make to your community. Close behind is the value that you have added to yourself. And since you take that with you to your job, you will bring value there too.

This Week’s Action Item: The time commitment for this type of involvement is very small: usually about two evenings per month, plus a bit of time reviewing materials and responding to emails. Look around for an organization that fits the bill, and make the call before the end of the week.

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

Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)