Board evaluations are an important part of running a Board successfully. An evaluation allows you to take stock of the overall health of your Board, making sure that all members are pulling their weight equally, as well as feeling fulfilled in the objectives and accomplishments of the Board and the opportunities to be heard. It is also a good time to make sure that all methods of best practice are being followed, including cybersecurity measures, bylaws, and legal obligations for directors, and that any established goals are progressing on schedule.
BoardPro spoke to some experts in the industry to gain an understanding of five things professionals should be aware of before starting their Board evaluation process. Board evaluations provide the arena and framework necessary for a check-in; they do not need to be intimidating procedures nor cause undue stress and conflict within the Board. We spoke with Fi Mercer, a governance expert and the founding director of GovernWith, which works to support smaller Boards in their governance journey, as well as Steven Bowman, managing director at Conscious Governance, an organisation that offers consultancy services for NFPs at all levels of their direction and organisation.
Based on their insight, we have outlined below five key things to know before beginning your Board evaluation.
1. What are you evaluating and how?
Step one of preparing for your Board evaluation is deciding what exactly you are evaluating and how. Determining what part of your Board to assess is key as most members are busy juggling multiple commitments. You should know how in-depth you plan to make your evaluation, as well as how it compares to any past evaluations conducted in terms of procedure and what presidents you hope to set. Once you have decided what kind of assessment you would like to employ, you should decide how involved you would like members to be. Tools such as self-assessments and software tailored to determining what aspect of the Board's work needs evaluation can help focus your direction and guide the form of your evaluation.
2. What are the current realities for your company?
“Evaluation, and review and development, is crucial because it takes you from 'don't know what you don't know' to 'knowing what you don't know' to actually being in a much more comfortable place about looking at 'what else do we have to work on' and 'it's okay to have a problem, it's actually important,” says Mercer.
Knowing the situations facing your company is a must before you take stock of its internal functions, as it establishes a framework against which you can compare company progress. Measuring your work versus the environment of your industry and any challenges or opportunities facing your business will reveal both your strengths as Board and the areas which need more work.
3. What are the short- and long-term goals of your organisation?
Being clear on your company goals, both short- and long-term, can help guide the direction of your Board evaluation. Moreover, it ensures that the evaluation remains results-oriented and future-focused, rather than becoming derailed by victim-blaming or peer-on-peer criticism. Centring your goals as a Board reaffirms your commitment to the organisation and reminds Board members of the reasons behind evaluations in the first place, bringing clarity and purpose to a seemingly-arduous and exposing process.
4. What are the legal obligations of your jurisdiction/ industry?
As you are reviewing the practices of your Board, you should be certain that you are up to date on all legal obligations for Board directors, members and organisations in your jurisdiction and field. Evaluations are a good time to update regulations and software as shortcomings become apparent. These areas that are lacking are easier to resolve while fresh on everyone's mind post-evaluation, and acting fast will demonstrate your commitment and responsive attitude as a director. Moreover, fixing any errors that become apparent quickly will keep your company safe and protect its reputation as a reliable organisation, reassuring your clientele.
5. What are the goals of your assessment?
Go into your evaluation knowing what insight it is that you hope to glean. This will help hone the questions you ask and guide any group discussions that take place either during or post-assessment. Everyone should be clear on what the assessment hopes to reveal and work together to achieve these goals, regardless of the results of the evaluation. Determining ahead of time will help you not be sidetracked along the way and keep you objective in the process. Ultimately, Board evaluations provide the material necessary to springboard your company to the next level.
Bowman shares that, overall, “Continuous review and development really is about never falling into the big trap of thinking we've got it right. For example, for continuous review and development of your strategy, you'd have an annual strategy review, but then at each board meeting you should be saying 'what else is new?'. One of my favourite headings in a really strategic board agenda is the heading that says 'strategic gossip', what have you heard out there, what implications might it have for us, what might we have missed? So it starts to build the DNA and the thinking and behaviour of directors to continually look from outside of what we think we've got right o look at what else is possible.”