To build a good house, start with a plan. Then focus on laying a good foundation. For better results, build your house on a wide, flat and deep rock. Strengthen your house by mixing your materials – water, sand, cement, etc in the right quantities. But how do you supervise a house construction without knowing the bills of quality?
As a new board member, it is your responsibility to know the details first until you are comfortable with the state of the business or organisation.
Also read: How Board members are killing NGO’s
Consider the following:
- What is your mandate as a member on the board?
- Are your roles, responsibilities and duties as a board member clearly spelt in your appointment letter?
- Who exactly is your boss (who signed your appointment letter)? [Hint: If your appointment is signed off by the managing director, it could be a sign of some dysfunction. It is the Board’s role to appoint the Managing Director and not the other way round. It is outside the powers of the MD to sign on the appointment of the Board member since one of the major responsibilities of the latter is to appoint and supervise the former.] Family owned businesses pose big challenges since one person – the owner, usually acts as the board chair and managing director. In that case, you need to make your stand so that relinquish their managing director role, as a condition for your acceptance to sit on their board.
- Have you obtained copies of the organization’s legal documents? For a public entity or government institution, obtain the Act of Parliament that establishes it. Understand the functions and the governance structure of the institution. Seek to identify the key stakeholders and if possible, try to meet them in person, to assess their understanding of governance and possible influence. Understand their expectations of you as an individual board member. Try to probe for the unwritten expectations and how exactly you were identified for the board position. Remember, board appointment is no longer a privilege, it is a big responsibility.
- How exactly will your performance on the board be evaluated individually and the board as a whole? If the company is listed on the stock exchange, ensure that you obtain a copy of their prospectus, read and understand it. The objective is to gain critical insights about the organization’s technical insights and strategic foundation – what is the organization’s technical insights that informs the business model and strategic choices? What is their core business and competitive advantage? What makes the company successful now and in future?