One of the most incredible things about the credit union industry is its reliance on volunteer directors and the role they play in their credit unions. The durability of these volunteers and the commitment they make to stay around for years is powerful.

But this can become a huge weakness for a credit union…

Image from DollarPhotoClub.com

Image from DollarPhotoClub.com

When the same people hold the same positions for so many years, the knowledge they gain about the industry and the institution often fails to get transferred when those directors retire.

Equally dangerous is the prospect of directors holding the reins longer than they should for fear that their knowledge will get lost.

Do NOT let this happen to your credit union!

The reality is that the composition of credit union boards needs to shift considerably as credit unions expand their fields of membership and serve broader geographic areas. And, as the industry continues to evolve, board members will need different knowledge and skill to guide credit unions and ensure their continued success.

But that doesn’t mean we should ignore the wisdom of the board members who contributed to the past success of the credit union.

The following excerpt from my article in Credit Union Management Magazine provides tips you can use on how to capture the knowledge of long-time board members before they exit the credit union. (I encourage you to read the entire article for information on evaluating when it is time for board members to step down).

Capturing Knowledge
In my work with CUs over the past 15 years, many people have expressed the same fear in discussions about board leaders stepping down—the fear that key knowledge will leave with them.

In particular, people are concerned about capturing information about the context within which the credit union was created and operates; collecting evidence of the credit union overcoming obstacles and navigating challenges; and documenting the credit union’s history. These are important considerations. When you’re building a board for the future, you need to capture the wisdom that lies within the current board.

From my perspective, the process begins during the recruitment and training process for new volunteers. The first step is defining the expectation that every volunteer is responsible for owning, capturing, and sharing the institutional knowledge that defines the CU’s story. That means all members of the volunteer leadership team have a responsibility for building the capacity of the team by learning the lessons of the past and sharing them with current and future leaders.

Here are three ways you can capture the knowledge of departing board members:

  1. Create an emeritus program—Too often when people step down from the board, they “disappear.” An emeritus board member program involves anyone who has completed a term of board service. The goal is to keep people who were willing to serve engaged after their official term of service on the board has ended.This group should mentor new and associate board members, share the CU’s story with prospective volunteers, and capture the history and key lessons from their time on the board for use in preparing future volunteer leaders for success.
  2. Interview departing board members—A very simple way to capture the knowledge of departing board members is with an exit interview. Use the information from these interviews in the recruitment and training of new volunteers. An easy way to do this is to have someone sit down with departing board members with a video camera and ask a series of open-ended questions about their experiences on the board, key lessons they learned, the challenges the board faced and how they dealt with them. Create clips from the video that can be shared.If video is not practical, taking notes or recording audio could work. So could a written or computer survey. You could even hire a local reporter to conduct the interview and write a personal story about the insights the board member shares.
  3. Develop a volunteer knowledge base—A knowledge base could provide future volunteers access to the context and experiences that have shaped the CU, plus insights for being more effective.

Action Advice: It is the job of a leader to equip his or her successors with the resources necessary to take the organization beyond what was thought possible—and to have the courage to know when to step aside and let them do it. Use these tips to capture board member wisdom to support your credit union’s continued success.