Six Ways to Increase Your Board’s Transparency

man holding up transparent screen

3 minutes

A portal can be a big asset.

Remember when board governance required blind faith?

Twenty years ago, many directors trusted that they were seeing all critical documents and being consulted on key decisions based on a handshake with the chair and CEO.

Mostly it worked okay, until there were issues. Facing a product flop, customer drop or compliance failure, the CEO or chair might have started selectively sharing concerns with agreeable directors. One, then two or three board meetings turned into rushed updates about glossed-over truths. And then those habits got hard to break.

It’s almost cliché to say we are living in an age of transparency, but it’s worth repeating because so many businesses are still catching up with modern governance expectations.

Why has the board become a clear glass fishbowl? It’s spill over from what Harvard Business Review describes as a critical business shift in transparent business leadership. External voices and views, including your directors, now hold businesses to higher account and bring their own independent perspective more than ever before.

That’s the why. But how can your board can achieve transparency and do it economically?

If your organization isn’t yet using technology to provide open access to information for your board, or if you are re-assessing the tool that you use, the step up might be a lot easier and more affordable than you think. Plenty of easy-to-use board portal tools now exist to deliver basic transparency to all directors:

1. Centralized, one stop access to board documents. Younger directors (which you need to recruit) and future-oriented older directors (who are highly valuable to your business) will insist on access anytime, from any device, anywhere in the world.

2. Automatic archive and audit trail. No hiding secrets in a closet. Even new recruits should be aware of wins/losses of the past. Own your good news and lessons learned with same volume of voice.

3. Same time access to updates and alerts. All directors, regardless of whether they are naysayers or where they are in the world, need to receive electronic notice of meeting timing, key votes and issue progress at exactly the same time. Favoritism, nepotism? No way. Eliminate any risk of bias in communication.

Beyond the basics though, you might be wise to take advantage of a few more capabilities that have become available in board portals:

4. Valid online voting. Boards often need to take critical votes when directors’ schedules conflict. Board portal voting can be a viable option.

5. Surveys to measure director and board performance. Transparency needs to work both ways. Use at least annual surveys to assess directors’ contribution and awareness of your strategic issues. Benchmark annual total board performance and hold your chair accountable to progress.

6. Data security that ensures anywhere, emergency access. Regardless of where your headquarters is located, in times of natural disaster or corporate crisis, your directors must have immediate, remote access to make decisions. Look for a board portal that locates your data optimally for risk and governance.

Lastly, be skeptical about premium pricing. With most board portal software performing similar functions, it’s very important to evaluate service, pricing and track record with organizations similar to yours.

Ian Warner is president/CEO of Aprio, a strategic partner of CUES. Aprio is a board portal company, headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia, that helps credit unions big and small to achieve transparent communication, efficient decisions and well-run board meetings. Before joining Aprio, Ian was COO of Vancity, Canada’s largest credit union, and was CEO of Vancity’s subsidiary Citizens Bank of Canada for four years.

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