By Betsy Chapin Taylor
Great boards commit to regular board evaluation to illuminate opportunities to improve both board and organizational performance and to enhance the board experience. Most boards advance this process on an annual basis to explore issues at both the collective board level and the individual board member level to uncover specific growth opportunities. This provides insights into competencies, accomplishments and shortcomings to identify and prioritize opportunities for growth.
Routine evaluation is similar to making a commitment to “preventive” care rather than “sick” care: it is a hallmark of a healthy organization. The intentional board embraces board evaluation as a positive and proactive process to uncover opportunity and refine performance rather than a tool to be critical or punitive. Information from board surveys is generally shared in aggregate and is not linked to specific names to encourage forthrightness and productive criticism. Candid responses enable an honest and actionable snapshot of board performance and areas of opportunity.
Most boards use a formal, self-assessment tool delivered in a paper or electronic format. Most tools offer a scale of response rather than “yes” or “no” to allow members to more clearly indicate the relative performance. Results from an assessment generally provide a median score, a range of scores and the number of board members responding to illuminate variances in and validity of response. It is also valuable to participate in a larger scale survey tool to allow comparisons between your organization and similar organizations to place the performance of your board in context; often, this means the board will receive the median score on the same question at other organizations or a percentile ranking for each question.
Boards should plan to schedule a formal agenda item to discuss results of the board evaluation survey. After the board receives results, it is helpful to discuss areas that demonstrate where the board has made significant gains and where the board has the greatest opportunity for improvement. There is no need to allocate precious discussion time to areas where performance has remained consistently good and is aligned with median performance at other institutions; those results can simply be provided in written form for members to review at their leisure. Once results are reviewed, it is helpful for the board to identify and prioritize two to five areas of opportunity to address and to discuss how improvements could be achieved in those areas either collectively or through a board committee or task force.