Education & Government
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Diana Baker Freeman
Sr. Manager, Modern Governance Advocacy & Iniatives

Practical strategies for clerks onboarding new council members

June 11, 2024
0 min read
practical strategies for clerks onboarding new council members

Fresh from the recent election cycle, several new members will be joining their council. They are eager to get started but they have so much to learn. How long will it take those members to be confident enough to speak up at a council meeting? When will they know enough about the issues and governance processes to introduce their own ideas on how to solve challenges facing their community?

The answer to those questions depends — in part — on the onboarding, training and preparation those new council members receive starting at the beginning of their tenure and continuing throughout their term. Ensuring that new members have the knowledge and ability to serve their community is the responsibility of clerks and managers, according to Douglas, GA, Assistant City Manager Chelsea Jackson.

“Providing a true onboarding opportunity and accompanying manual is beneficial for your elected officials, your staff, and your community,” Jackson writes in PM Magazine. “Setting the tone from day one with a high-quality onboarding experience allows for a smooth progression throughout the term of the elected official. It provides clarity and shows that staff is dedicated to the long-term success of the official and the success and quality of life of the community.”

Onboarding done right sets the tone for new members and demonstrates to council members and the community that the staff is committed to supporting them in their governance work, points out Jackson.

“Setting the tone from day one with a high-quality onboarding experience allows for a smooth progression throughout the term of the elected official. It provides clarity and shows that staff is dedicated to the long-term success of the official and the success and quality of life of the community.” - Chelsea Jackson, Assistant City Manager, Douglas, GA

Benefits of good onboarding

Local governments face increasingly complex challenges, including:

  • State and federal mandates
  • Pressures to do more with fewer resources, and
  • Community expectations of engagement and transparency.

New council members need to be ready as soon as possible to perform their duties and be a fully engaged member. Good orientation prepares new members to clearly understand their roles and responsibilities and how the decision-making process works.

A good onboarding process informs new members on the inner workings of the government. It outlines legal and regulatory requirements, which reduces the risk of new council members accidently stumbling into noncompliance of mandates and potential legal issues. The organization’s history, projects, current priorities and long-term goals should also be included. Onboarding should offer training on the technology tools used by the council and administrators, including board management software.

Effective onboarding can foster teamwork by bringing together new and existing members. Members can meet through orientation sessions or be introduced online. New members should be assigned veteran member mentors who are available to answer questions and give advice and guidance when needed.

Good onboarding for new council members ensures they are set up for success in their roles, all of which enhances the overall credibility of the government and helps to build a positive reputation among residents and community members.

Technology support for onboarding

Board management software like Diligent Community can be an indispensable tool for creating orientation and training sessions for new council members. Using software for onboarding can also help new members learn about their roles and become proficient in using this new technology.

Here are some ways to use your board management solution for onboarding:

  • Centralized information: Board management software offers an online platform where all relevant documents, policies, meeting agendas and minutes are stored. This allows new members to access essential information easily and quickly.
  • Orientation materials: New members can view orientation materials such as training videos, welcome messages and FAQs to guide new members, which are hosted by the platform. This allows new members to familiarize themselves with the council at their own pace.
  • Task assignment and tracking: Board management software includes features for task assignment and tracking. During the onboarding process, new members can complete tasks such as reading specific documents or completing training modules, and progress can be monitored by administrators or mentors.
  • Communication tools: Board management software includes communication tools such as messaging, discussion forums and email. These tools increase communication between new members, mentors, administrators and other council members.
  • Document collaboration and version control: Board management software offers document collaboration features, which makes it possible for multiple users to edit documents simultaneously and ensuring that everyone has access to the most up-to-date information. This feature is useful during the onboarding process when new members may need to review and contribute to documents.

Tips for preparing for onboarding

Creating a helpful, practical orientation process for new council members is crucial for ensuring a smooth transition and effective governance. Here are some preparation tips for board clerks and managers to consider:

  • Create an onboarding packet: Compile a packet containing essential information about the council, its functions, ongoing projects, key contacts, mission statement, bylaws and meeting schedules. This packet can serve as a reference guide for new members and be stored on your board management platform library.
  • Schedule orientation sessions: Coordinate orientation sessions for new council members to introduce them to their roles and responsibilities, as well as the organizational structure. These sessions can include presentations, Q&A sessions and tours of relevant facilities.
  • Assign mentors: Pair new members with experienced council members who can serve as mentors. Mentors can provide guidance, answer questions and help new members acclimate to their new roles.
  • Create networking opportunities: Organize opportunities for new members to meet and connect with other council members, staff and community members. Building relationships early on can help new members feel more engaged.
  • Provide specialized training: Offer sessions on topics such as parliamentary procedure, conflict resolution and effective communication to equip new members with the skills they need to contribute effectively to council meetings and decision-making processes.
  • Set clear expectations: Clearly communicate expectations regarding attendance, participation, responsibilities and using the board management software for all communication to new council members.
  • Follow up regularly: Schedule regular check-ins with new members to address any questions or concerns they may have and to ensure they are adjusting well to their new roles. Provide ongoing support as needed.

Good onboarding encourages good governance

Comprehensive onboarding for new council members is an essential part of good governance. Board management software can play a key role in onboarding new council members so they can get up to speed on the issues and quickly participate in the governing process.

Diligent Community, designed with the needs of public governing boards in mind, can partner with clerks and managers to make the onboarding process beneficial to the new members and to the entire council and the community it serves. Find out more information and request a demo.


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