In college, I did my best doodling in my chemical engineering class. Was it because I was so bored that I would drift off into day dreaming? Quite the contrary. The information was so over my head and I was so lost that I quit trying to keep up; therefore, I checked out in class.
I’m seeing credit union board members doing the same thing. They are not engaged in their responsibilities. Are they bored or lost? Do they understand enterprise risk management? Do they understand the new regulations and compliance issues facing credit unions today? Do they understand Dodd-Frank? True, does anyone understand Dodd-Frank?
Credit union boards must be shaped for the present and the future because credit union history is unlike anything we have seen. Here are some ideas for giving boards a wakeup call and creating a better informed and better equipped board of directors:
Employ term limits
I know many board members who have served for more than 25 years. The 1980s did nothing to prepare them for today. For those long-term board members, you must ask: Are they fighting to keep up and lead in this new economy? Are they wishing for how it used to be? Or have they checked out because they are lost? Look for doodling.
Board members should be on a three- to four-year rotation, depending on the number on the board. Once they rotate off, they should remain off for two years before re-joining. This rotation expands the leadership’s knowledge base, keeps ideas fresh, and removes a sense of entitlement from some board members, a common ill faced by CEOs.
When I raise the issue of board rotation, I hear the response how hard it is to find someone willing to serve. Do you need a bigger warning how important board development is? Getting the right people, not just those who volunteer or those who don’t want to leave, is more important than ever before. Every CEO should be looking to build the board for the future.
Ask hard questions
Is your board representative of your membership? More importantly, how committed is your board to your desired membership growth? When I see board members struggling to use an iPad, refusing to use online services, or more concerned with protecting the original SEG than in expanding for the credit union’s benefit -- I see board members out of touch with the future of credit unions.
Have you faced some tough choices lately? Fees? Business loans? Branches? Mergers? These significant decisions are going to only become more common as the credit union industry contracts. Hard decisions require not only deep knowledge of the subject and the ramifications of these decisions, but also the ability to objectively make tough choices. Is your board ready? Or are they doodling again? Or worse yet resisting change out of fear? Tough questions require informed decision makers.
Test the Board
When given the opportunity, I like to test the board during a strategic planning retreat to see how informed they are. Lately, credit union executives are not including this board challenge as part of the process. Is it because the executive already knows the results and doesn’t want to create a rift in board-executive communication? I know that’s a delicate balance. The test shouldn’t embarrass anyone as it is self-graded, but it does give a wakeup call to volunteers who are coasting.
Every executive I work with inside and outside the credit union industry tell me it is exhausting to keep up with the pace of change. Credit unions in particular have a tougher time when you add in regulators and constant compliance shifts.
How do you keep up? The best way you can: You train, you add expertise to your people on call inside and outside the credit union, and you elevate your abilities to create success in a vastly different environment. Are you setting the same expectations for your board members? They are an important piece of the success story.
Credit union board members are not paid for their positions and they have a long history of representation, especially in the single SEG days. As competition changes, as government involvement changes, and as technology drives credit unions to a greater speed of change, the board component needs to keep pace; otherwise, you will be getting more doodling than decision-making.
Russell J. White is a consultant, speaker and president of Pinnacle Solutions in Lake Wylie, S.C.