I am very fortunate to be able to serve on multiple not-for-profit boards. I interact with terrific people and in every case, the mission of the organization makes a very positive contribution to society, be it on a larger scale or a smaller scale. Most of the boards I serve on are education related and as a long term educator, I recognize the importance of volunteer service to support quality education at every level. Especially now, when economic constraints are present at every level, board service can make an important positive difference.
Boards are more effective or less effective depending on the membership of the board and also depending on the relationship of the board to the CEO. Individual board members are often evaluated on a regular basis according to the criteria of their appointment. Overall board evaluations happen much less frequently in my experience. One of the boards I serve on has, for many years (beginning long before I was involved), had board members do an annual evaluation of the overall board. The evaluation covers everything from how the chair runs the meetings, to how well board members are prepared for the meeting, all with a five point scale and the ability to add comments. Questions are asked about respecting confidentiality, working toward compromise, not micromanaging, keeping your constituency fully involved, evaluating and recognizing – if appropriate – exemplary performance of top management, developing clear policies and providing the resources to support those policies, understanding budgets, as well as establishing and monitoring strategic plans. There are more than 60 detailed questions in total, and 8 separate opportunities to add comments.
In some years, the board ranks itself very highly while in other years more concerns and self doubts permeate the review. The honesty and candor of the reviews have been impressive as have the discussions that follow the distribution of the consolidated self assessment. But the result of this self assessment is a board that is better positioned to lead and also to listen. We know what hasn’t worked well and we have reviewed what could make it better.
This type of self evaluation doesn’t work if one or more of the individuals involved take this assessment personally. There is a conscious effort not to be critical of individuals and to look at the overall board performance. A few of the questions do however single out the board president and that person’s individual performance is in fact to some extent under a microscope but is still in the context of the overall board performance.
In the months and years ahead, I will suggest to more of the boards that I serve on and to the individuals I serve with, that a self assessment be built in on a regular basis. I recommend that my colleagues do the same. The practice makes sense and the improvement in performance can make a positive difference.