Are you struggling to demonstrate your value as a board member? Developing… – Women of Influence

By Kristi Honey

On May 21, 2022, a devastating tornado made landfall in the Ontario community of Uxbridge, with wind speeds that could uproot trees, down power lines and rip roofs off buildings. Within minutes, the community emergency response center was activated, putting into action plans we had only practiced weeks earlier. All of our emergency preparedness work enabled community leaders and council to mobilize immediately. Everyone knew their role and our approach to communication was aligned with our operational plans.

We are fortunate that we rarely face an emergency on an organizational level. But when it does, the most effective responses come from organizations whose senior management and board planned the crisis, providing a clear understanding of the organization’s role and each role within the emergency response.

As a board member, being asked to step in during an emergency and implement your plans and preparations can be a fulfilling part of your board journey, allowing you to develop and demonstrate leadership skills. But before a crisis hits, there’s also an opportunity to develop and demonstrate your value as a board member by making a commitment to preparedness — knowing your role in an emergency, understanding the organization’s business risks and response plans, and going the extra mile to optimize both.

As a veteran CEO, I’ve spent years figuring out that extra mile. My goal now is to help other women shorten the learning curve (from get on a board to be successful there). If you want to better understand how to practice good corporate governance to optimize your crisis preparedness and that of your organization – and quickly demonstrate your worth to the board – read on for my top advice.

Know your board, know your role.

First, take the time to understand your board and your role as a board member. You should have clarity about the model of your board Is it an advisory board, an elected board (or council), a non-profit organization, or a corporate board? Also, what governance model has been adopted Is it a traditional, hybrid, or policy-based governance board?

To learn this, carefully review the Board Bylaws, committee structures and mandates, and Board Rules of Procedure. Ensure that you are familiar with the insurance and indemnification arrangements for Directors & Officers (D&Os) of the Board of Directors to limit your personal liability. Knowing your role is essential to good governance. If you lack the governance experience, seek formal training such as the Director’s Education Program of the Institute of Corporate Directors (ICD), and women get in.

In the community of Uxbridge, our council orientation is vital to the onboarding of new members. In addition, our council is governed by municipal law. Ongoing annual training is essential to ensure our council members understand their roles and the segregation of duties between staff and the mayor and council during regular operations and how authorities change when we declare a state of emergency.

Understand your organization and how to act in a crisis.

The success of your board journey requires a solid understanding of your role and the organization. Do you know the vision, mission and values ​​of the organization? Have you read the annual report and the strategic plan? Do you understand the organization’s financial position? Are you up to date on competitive and industry drivers that need to be considered in the strategic plan? All of these are essential to your onboarding journey.

To become an effective contributor, make sure you go beyond the basics and try to understand the following aspects of organization:

  • Enterprise Risk Management Framework & Ongoing Monitoring: Review the board’s work plan and ensure it includes business risk assessments and reporting to the board. Understand which committee is responsible for ongoing monitoring and reporting to the board. As a board, are you aware of what risks the organization has mitigated, outsourced, insured, or accepted? What level of risk is reported to the board and what triggers a reporting requirement for the board when incidents occur?
  • Crisis communication: Who can speak on behalf of the board (hint: the chair!)? Does the organization have a communication plan with canned responses approved by legal counsel or insurer to respond to foreseeable controversies or crises? Who monitors what is reported about your organization in the various media? Are tools in place to monitor your brand sentiment? How and when are these regularly reported to the Executive Board?
  • Crisis and Disaster Preparedness Scenarios and Tabletop Exercises: Before a crisis, ensure role clarity. Does your organization conduct scenarios or tabletop exercises for emergency preparedness, if so what role can the board play to support preparedness? Be clear about your role in a crisis or emergency (if any). A board should consider matters that might be brought to the board for decision prior to an emergency and consider the implications (legal or insurance, reputational risk, communications) prior to an emergency. You don’t want the first conversation about critical issues — like the board’s position on ransomware payments — to happen during a crisis. Good planning, including scenarios and tabletop exercises involving the board, will ensure better focus during a real-world event.

Ensure the board chair is familiar with the skills and experience you can bring to the committee or board level, and particularly what expertise the organization may want to rely on in an emergency or crisis.

During our weather emergency in the Borough of Uxbridge I was able to call on key skills from our councilors to help us respond. We have a comprehensive contingency plan in place, pre-packaged crisis notices and had recently (just two weeks previously) conducted additional refresher training. This ensured we could focus on what was most important in our answer. We were able to work with the local newspaper that COSMOSto have an early edition printed and distributed to over 8000 homes to put important information in the hands of our residents at a time when the local radio station was down and many of our residents were completely without electricity, internet or phone systems.

Prioritize building relationships.

Demonstrating that you arrived at the meeting table well prepared – understanding the company, your role, the principles of good corporate governance and of course that you have carefully read and actively listened to the agenda materials will help you quickly gain credibility with your Build colleagues in the boardroom.

During my tenure as chair of several boards, I have had the opportunity to mentor several new directors. While it requires an investment of time, it builds relationships and creates a safe space for new directors to ask questions, seek advice, and speak up faster around the table. It accelerates their integration and their ability to fully contribute to the team.

Relationships are at the heart of our ability to contribute effectively, especially in times of crisis:

  • Build relationships with the chair, other board members and senior management.
  • Seek clarity about the organization’s key contracted suppliers for emergency preparedness. Does the organization have contracts with the expertise required for a range of foreseeable scenarios such as legal, insurance, negotiation, PR and crisis management teams?
  • Make sure the board knows your area of ​​expertise and how to lean on you to support board objectives or in the event of an emergency (cybersecurity, legal, human resources, public relations, government lobbying).
  • Find a mentor and offer to be a mentor in an area in which you have experience.

Relationship building means taking the time to learn, socialize and network. Make the time to show up early for board and committee meetings—it makes a difference to really get to know your fellow board members. Take part in the social events. Participate in the optional learning or educational sessions and factory tours. Let people know who you are and what expertise you can offer.

It is important to know your board, your role and your organization in order to be accepted onto a new board. Building relationships prior to an emergency or crisis greatly improves an organization’s ability to respond. Aside from our extensive contingency planning, our relationship was the only thing that really mattered when the community of Uxbridge made an emergency call during our community’s worst hour of need. The tremendous response guaranteed no fatalities, the safety of all, and a united community.

About Ellen Lewandowski

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