Thought leadership

SMART Board Work can be Out-of-the-Box Board Work

SMART Board Work can be Out-of-the-Box Board Work

These are challenging times. Health system and hospital boards are eager to explore how best to accomplish their fiduciary roles of oversight of the work of those who deliver and manage health services. Insights to continuously improve their board work are welcomed from other health sector organizations as well financial services organizations such as banks and credit unions. See our paper here.

As in hospital and health system boards, the quality of a credit union’s leadership is probably the most important factor in its success. A study sponsored by the Filene Research Institute identified board activities, work styles, and characteristics that contribute to outstanding credit union performance.1

There are 15 cited activities and traits cites that should stimulate conversations among health system boards and leadership teams. Board leaders would be wise to substitute health system where credit union is mentioned:

  1. Hire the best management you can afford because effective management is one of your credit union’s best assets.  Establish performance standards and compensate the CEO adequately.
  2. Don’t let the CEO “run” the board.  You shouldn’t be a rubber stamp for management’s suggestions; the ultimate legal and ethical responsibility for the credit union’s operations is yours.
  3. Make timely decisions.  Don’t procrastinate.  When action is necessary, get the facts and act.  Know that delays can be costly in money, staff morale, and good will.
  4. Accept and adapt to change.  Welcome new ideas and be imaginative.  Learn from your mistakes and others’ and move on.
  5. Be enthusiastic about the job and the prospect of serving the members.  Be an ambassador for the organization.
  6. Cooperate with other directors and support decisions once they’re made.  Decisions reflect board consensus and majority rule.
  7. Find constructive ways to resolve conflict.  Don’t allow it to derail board operations.  Stick to the facts and push for consensus.
  8. Make the credit union an active force in improving member’s welfare.  This may extend beyond a strict definition of credit union and financial services.
  9. Be familiar with all your credit union’s services and use them.  If you don’t how can you expect others to?
  10. Be objective, exercise independent judgment, and avoid or properly handle all conflicts of interest.
  11. Honor the confidentiality of members’ personal information (ensure cyber security insurance policies and protocols exist.
  12. Commit to give the time and effort necessary to perform your duties well.
  13. Prepare yourself for meetings.  Read the reports you receive from the chair and management.  Attend and participate in all board meetings.
  14. Constantly improve your knowledge and skills through all available avenues.
  15. Study your credit union’s financial reports:  the financial statements, the budget, and the latest comprehensive audit.  If you don’t understand something, ask questions until you do understand.

To further stimulate your board reflections on essential practices, experienced boards would be wise to consider the admonition from Board Source to “Stand by Your Mission” in this article.




1) See: Credit Union Board of Directors Handbook, CUNA, 2010

James A. Rice

Jim Rice, PhD, FACHE is the Managing Director & Practice Leader with the Governance & Leadership service line of Gallagher’s Human Resources & Compensation Consulting practice. He focuses his consulting work on strategic governance structures and systems for high performing, tax-exempt nonprofit, credit union and health sector organizations and integrated care systems; visioning for large and small not-for-profit organizations; and leadership development for Boards and C-Suite Senior Leaders. 

Dr. Rice holds masters and doctoral degrees in ...

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