Are the Right People on Your Board Bus?

Phil Kenkel
Bill Fitzwater Cooperative Chair
Oklahoma State University


If you haven’t had a chance to visit the CHS Center for Cooperative Growth website, take a few minutes to see the videos and download my white paper on board alignment. Board alignment has numerous dimensions, including internal alignment, alignment with the cooperatives strategy, alignment with the CEO and alignment with the members’ interest.

Effective, internally aligned boards have the “right people on the bus.” Internal alignment requires a balanced combination of experience, financial expertise and diversity of perspectives. While continuity is important, a degree of turnover on the board helps to maintain a fresh perspective. Boards composed of directors with long tenures often fall prey to group thinking and have reduced objectivity in questioning the decisions and opinions of the CEO or board chair. The cooperative board room needs different perspectives. Imagine a soccer team with 12 goal keepers. It wouldn’t allow many goals, but it also wouldn’t score any goals.

The challenge of recruiting and retaining talented directors is complicated by the significant time and work commitment of board service and by the cooperative culture of modest or even trivial director compensation. Board selection is a member responsibility. Nevertheless, successful cooperatives must develop the culture and procedures to ensure multiple quality candidates for each open board seat.

Some cooperatives have established associate board member positions. The associate board members participate in board discussions but do not vote. The associate board can be a vehicle for recruiting and grooming board members.

New directors should receive a comprehensive orientation. The orientation should help them understand their roles and responsibilities. Ideally, it should be much more comprehensive and enable new directors to gain an understanding of the cooperative’s operations and its risk profile.

Get the right people on your bus, and make sure you have a good pool of future directors waiting at the bus stop!