Much has been written about the importance of providing comprehensive orientation programming (i.e., “onboarding”) to new board members, in order that they may be capable of assuming their board duties and responsibilities on an accelerated basis. Following recent media coverage, attention is now spreading to onboarding activities involving an incoming CEO and new board chairs.

For example, a recent article in Forbes spoke to the value of more direct board involvement in what the article described as the “acquiring, assimilating, and accelerating" of new CEOs. The goal of such an exercise is to respond to the daunting statistic indicating that 40 percent of new CEOs fail in their first 18 months of service. The Forbes article focuses on several factors critical to the onboarding process: the need for the board to assure alignment on expectations for the recruitment process and the desired CEO characteristics; assembling a broad list of qualified candidates in order to provide options for the board; developing a relationship with the new CEO by discussing with him or her the nature of the job, its deliverables, stakeholders, announcement themes, pre-start and “day one” plans; and adopting a comprehensive assimilation plan that accommodates conversations between the CEO and key stakeholders, as well as with members of the CEO’s likely formal and informal networks.

Along the same lines, a recent survey conducted by the Alliance for Nonprofit Management suggested that more than 50 percent of 635 surveyed nonprofit board chairs reported that they neither received, nor pursued special training or other orientation before they assumed that position. A related result was that a slightly larger percentage had only three years or less experience on the board before assuming the chair’s role. As might be expected, the survey recommended more focused mentoring and related onboarding activity aimed at training individuals for the chair’s role. Some progressive health systems have adopted formal training programs for incoming board leaders (e.g., board and committee chairs). These programs focus on (i) basic fiduciary duties and principles of nonprofit and exempt organization tax law; (ii) the expected relationship of governance to management; (iii) the specific roles and authorities provided under state law and system governing documents and the various rights, powers and authorities vested in the board and committee leadership; (iv) committee structure, composition and practice; and (v) managing conflicts, independence and related issues. These are, of course, all issues on which the general counsel is particularly familiar.