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October 13, 2010

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Christopher Stevenson, director of professional development, CUES

While I agree that board training is a key ingredient to ensuring that directors understand their duties, the role of the board, and the effects of economic and market environments on their organizations, I'm not certain that instilling a culture of "forced training" is the most effective way to ensure board development happens. In fact, it may be the quickest way to erect barriers to effective board development.

I believe the biggest enemy to ongoing board development is time. While face-to-face, classroom-style education can be the best means of providing professional development, often board members' professional obligations, other volunteer work, and family commitments make it difficult to travel or attend lengthy board training events. And webinars and lengthy online training are quite often boring and ineffective learning tools. In other words, they are not effective uses of time in our board members' already busy lives.

So what works? The boards that do it best create a culture of board development. Instead of forcing the issue, boards incorporate short education sessions into board meetings and provide directors with easy-to-complete assignments (e.g. reading a short article or watching an online video) between meetings that can enhance their discussion of strategic issues. They also regularly assess the effectiveness of the board, the chairman, and committees so they can better understand the areas they need to improve and self-direct their own learning.

Ongoing professional development is a process for the entire board to undertake. It may take time to get the processes in place and to shift long-standing cultures, but the resulting benefits (such as improved strategic perspective, time management, and retention and recruitment) make it worth the effort.

Anthony Demangone

Chris - you raise a wonderful point, and it is a welcome addition to the conversation. There's no silver bullet to training and staff development. If there were, I guess we'd be selling them!

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