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How to survive your first 100 days on the board

Grace Blue's Chris Harris considers how to ensure the first 100 days on a board are as successful and productive as possible.

So, you’ve been appointed to the board – which means you’re keen to make a good impression and show that they’ve done the right thing by bringing you to the top table of the business. As with any new role, the first 100 days are the key to your success.

There are two general points that apply to any new board member, the first of which is to be yourself. There’s a lot of talk at present about the value of ‘authenticity’ among leaders, not least because your peers will swiftly spot any false notes.

The second point is to be confident in who you are and what you’re there to achieve: after all, that’s what got you onto the board in the first place.

Beyond those points, there are a number of things you can do to ensure your first 100 days on the board are as successful and productive as possible:

If you don’t know, ask

There should be a mixture of your having a clear agenda as well as being prepared to listen. The balance depends on whether you join the board as an internal appointment or from outside – internal promotions tend to be expected to hit the ground running, while those brought in from outside have a little more time to learn the specifics of the business.

In both cases, ask your questions early – at the first couple of board meetings and even beforehand. You’ll be expected to deliver sooner rather than later.

Have an agenda

A good board is made up of a healthy balance of skill sets. So you should understand why you’re there and set yourself an agenda around that role. For example, if you have international experience and the company is looking to expand overseas, move early to carve out that role for yourself. You need to quickly identify where you can add the most value to the business.

Research and deliver

Make sure you agree at each meeting what you will do before the next – and then deliver what you’ve promised. In addition, you should ensure you do the ‘homework’ before the meetings so no one is ahead of you. That means doing the reading, asking other directors questions about agenda items you may be unclear about, etc.

It’s not just about board meetings

It’s worth remembering that you’re a board member all the time, not just in the meetings. This is a behavioural issue, particularly relevant if you’ve not been on a board before. You’re working for the board, so listen out for issues you should raise and manage the employees who’ll be keen to know what the people at the top are thinking. Some directors think of their board and commercial roles as separate, but they’re not: you’re a board member and an executive at all times, not someone who switches between the two.

In addition, it’s always worth talking to all the other members between meetings. Agenda items don’t just live in the rarefied atmosphere of the boardroom – you get to decisions faster if you’re able to debate and reach consensus before the board meeting. Agendas will be circulated ahead of time for exactly that reason: to give directors time to discuss them first.

Make the meetings matter

If at all possible, you should try to bring something fresh to each meeting. And remember that you’re no less bright than anyone else. That means if something isn’t clear, someone isn’t clear or you have a question, then someone else probably feels the same. Ask the question!

On a related note, be sure to always speak your mind. If you have a view you must air it, because otherwise what’s the point of your being on the board at all? It’s not a group of ‘yes-men’ but a team whose job is to make the business better.

Ensure that the board has a healthy remit

The board is not hermetically sealed from the rest of the company and it has responsibilities beyond the financial health of the business, extending into CSR, culture, values etc. A healthy board will have discussions about issues that affect the working life of all the employees and ways to make those lives better and more productive.

The board is not there just to talk about the board, so make sure you raise issues and challenges that affect the workforce as a whole.

Real Business