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When determining board members’ development needs, Mina Worthington goes straight to the source, asking each director at Solarity Credit Union, Yakima, Wash., to identify their strengths and weaknesses.
“We were wrestling with how individualized to make our development because we all come from different experience levels,” says Worthington, president/CEO at the $832 million asset credit union. “We now have a baseline of where each board member evaluates themselves in the different development areas we came up with in strategic planning.”
The next step is to match required training with specific directors. In some cases, Solarity’s internal training team may develop courses to address specific topics. Worthington sets aside time at each board meeting to “expand our thought or give feedback on an area,” she says.
Solarity brings in experts in areas such as diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) to address emerging topics. The credit union actively recruits people with a growth mindset at every level of the credit union, including the board.
“Lifelong learners who are willing to learn and push themselves all the time are the only ones who fit on our board,” says Merrilou Harris, who joined Solarity’s board as an associate director in 2016, became a director in 2017, and now serves as board vice chair and governance committee chair.
The learning curve for credit union directors is getting steeper every year. Credit union executives and directors alike say there’s no cutting corners on board development to create a tighter timeline. Instead, they recommend setting clear expectations, offering varied resources, and tailoring development plans to individual needs.
The goal is to have new directors make meaningful contributions as soon as possible while keeping experienced directors from settling for outmoded ideas, says Kevin Smith, consultant/publisher at TEAM Resources and co-author of “A Credit Union Guide to Strategic Governance.”
“We can’t expect new directors to sit on their hands and not have input while they learn over the course of years of service,” says Smith, who advises adopting a formal, written development plan.
An effective development plan abandons outdated ideas, such as assuming directors absorb all essential information at meetings or that training only occurs once a year at a conference. Instead, directors need ongoing access to information to understand the competitive environment and “just-in-time training” to address current issues.
“It can’t be an ‘absorbed culture,’ ad hoc, or verbal,” Smith says. “It’s got to be codified to hold people accountable.”
He says the plan should, at a minimum, address the five categories CUNA’s Credit Union Board Certification Program uses: safety and soundness, strategic planning, governance, CEO oversight, and board operations and development.
NEXT: A development scorecard