OKLAHOMA CITY—Electric cooperatives were created by people committed to providing reliable and affordable electricity to themselves and their communities, and as those communities change, the men and women elected to govern co-ops must bring new competencies to the boardroom.

"Directors are having so much more thrown at them than ever before," said Pat Mangan, NRECA's director of governance education. "They have to make decisions about cybersecurity, broadband and complex power supply choices that not only involve co-op-owned assets but other options that have emerged, such as distributed energy resources."

Once elected, a new director is immediately pulled into the governance process and has to be able to process information quickly to make the best decisions for the co-op's consumer-members, he said.

"They don't have two or three years just to learn the ropes," said Mangan, who presented breakout sessions at NRECA's Regional Meetings titled, "The Next Generation Board: How the Director Skillset is Evolving." The session suggested that five competencies are critical to today's co-op director:

  • Being a quick study.
  • Openness to new ideas.
  • Ability to engage members as needs change.
  • Ability to connect with directors of other generations.
  • Ability to analyze complex information prior to making a decision.

"We now have some boards made up of representatives from four generations," said Mangan. He noted that besides the sons and daughters of the original co-op founders and baby boomers born in the postwar era, there are millennials and Gen-Xers serving together on co-op boards.

"They have to be able to work together and listen to each other," said Mangan. "They don't always have to agree, but they have to respect each other and be able to work toward a consensus to make decisions that best serve their co-op's members."

Directors and managers who participated in the sessions were urged to not only consider the demographic makeup of the co-op's membership when filling board vacancies, but also to consider the different business, professional and social circumstances multigenerational boards can reflect.

Mangan said directors have to be ready to listen to and understand changing member concerns because, like many consumers, co-op members are getting more involved in the management of their household energy needs.

"Some consumer-members want to do more with data and may want to get more involved in making decisions about how best to use energy," said Mangan. "When directors listen to those concerns and welcome the involvement of their membership, co-ops have opportunities to grow and get even stronger."

For more on governance, check out this new series of online educational videos in which co-op and industry experts offer comments on today's most important governance issues.