We believe that nearly all best-in-class clubs have mandatory, comprehensive and thorough orientations for new employees, new board members, new committee members, new members and even new club presidents.

Taking a serious, holistic and active approach to orientation leads to stronger employees, boards that function at a higher level, more effective committees and better-behaved members.  When it comes to orientation for stakeholders, we love the well-known slogan from Syms clothing stores: “An educated consumer is our best customer.”

Educating each constituency as often and as effectively as possible is critical; keeping education at the forefront and setting each stakeholder up for success right out of the game is one of the most important things a club can do.

We believe: Education = Buy in = Continuity = Relevance

Conducting a mandatory, not discretionary, orientation helps ensure that each constituency is the most effective it can be and truly understands key expectations, priorities, metrics and other important information about the club, its culture and where it’s going. Teaching, training and educating stakeholders dramatically reduces the learning curve that typically exists.

We meet with 100-plus boards each year, and we almost always hear that board members feel they could have been better prepared for what they have been asked to oversee and how best to contribute to the relevance and long-term success of the club. An effective orientation is what they missed.

Think back to when you were a freshman in something. It doesn’t matter what you were a freshman in, but recall how you overcame that freshman feeling. It was through knowledge, time, experience and confidence. You learned about the environment, the priorities, the tasks and how to be most effective in your role.

If you can recall the way you felt at that time, you will understand that no matter how old you are, what you’ve accomplished in your own business world or where you are in your life, you can still be a freshman in something. The goal of orientation is to reduce that uncomfortable freshman transition period and to get stakeholders up to speed and contributing more quickly.

When it comes to board member orientation, there’s a lot they need to learn, especially the three primary legal duties: duty of care – board members take the same precautions in governing the club that an “ordinary prudent” person would take, duty of loyalty or good faith – board members put interests of the club ahead of their own personal interests and duty of obedience – board members must remain faithful to the mission of the club. It is imperative that board members understand their role and responsibility and how it connects to the overall organization.

Secondly, orientation helps board members feel more useful and productive because they have deeper insights, and their confidence grows as a result. Thus, you create a better board member experience. When conducting your mandatory board orientation, identify the core values and guiding principles that are the foundation of how you operate. Explain “this is how we function and get the work of our club done here” to them.

It’s the time to say, “If you want to color outside of these lines, then this probably isn’t the right role or place for you.”

Coming in with an “agenda” and without understanding why and how things are done is quite possibly the most significant contributory issue to dysfunctionality in the boardroom.

Help board members understand that in conjunction with  the general manager, they are responsible for setting the goals and the focus for the club for the year ahead…for the organization, including committees, senior leaders and themselves. Make sure you emphasize that goal setting is one of the board’s most important tasks.

Committees can often get a bloated sense of their authority, and this is less likely to happen if you have a detailed and comprehensive orientation process up front. If you cover up front where their roles and responsibilities begin and end, and include board-initiated goals you want them to work on and achieve, it makes for a better experience for committee members and it leads to more effective committees and stronger overall continuity for the club.

Contributed by Richard Kopplin, Kurt D. Kuebler, CCM & Thomas B. Wallace Ill, CCM, CCE, ECM

BoardRoom Magazine – September/October 2021