How effective is your board? – Part 6

This post concludes the series on board effectiveness evaluation with a somewhat disparate collection of observations and reflections. Some of the ideas and charts included here might have been quite relevant in earlier parts of the series, but if they were not available at that time, their inclusion here acts as an amplification and reinforcement of some recurrent themes. Other inclusions offer more ‘high-level’ concepts, which move beyond measurement and evaluation to the wider landscape of governance for a worthy purpose.

Starting with ‘Why?’

Heeding Simon Sinek’s injunction to ‘start with why’, all of us working in the nonprofit and for-purpose fields serve groups and causes with ever-evolving needs. Our enduring purpose is expressed in different ways over time due to a complex set of multi-dimensional changes in the ‘environment’. Evaluation of those changes is one of the key mechanisms we use to ensure that our mission and strategy remain relevant and useful to our stakeholders and the wider community.

Sinek’s Golden Circle highlights the Why, How, and What questions, but as directors and managers of nonprofits, we also monitor and evaluate how well our strategies, systems, services, processes, and activities are serving our purpose. That’s why the MELD Reflective Governance Model diagram needed to be amended recently to place Mission at the centre of interactions between all four governance roles and modes – Direct, Measure, Evaluate, and Learn. The header chart above annotates Sinek’s Golden Circle with governance activities and perspectives that will be familiar to strategy and evaluation practitioners. For new directors, this chart might be a useful inclusion in their induction resource kit.

Hierarchy of Organisational Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs has been adapted for use in many ways over the decades, and some of those adaptations have applied the notion of a needs hierarchy to organisations. The version below was developed in response to an interesting version offered by Kayode Ajomole and Samuel Ajayi, which I felt needed to be adapted for use by nonprofits. The top two levels in their version were Dominance and Perpetuation, whereas the top two levels in mine are Effectiveness and High Performance.

As for Maslow’s personal human needs hierarchy, levels on the lower portion of the pyramid are foundational to higher levels. Our organisations can’t be effective unless they are viable, efficient, and enjoy good relations with key stakeholders.

When a board is considering its own effectiveness as a group charged with governance responsibilities, similar dependencies can be identified:

  • At the base level, the board will consider whether it has the skills and resources required to perform its duties, It will also want to confirm that its basic governance operations are in order.
  • The maturity of governance structures, systems, and processes, and their smooth operation, would be considerations at the next level of effectiveness evaluation.
  • There’s no point in having great governance systems and processes unless the organisation is closely connected with its stakeholders. The degree to which directors are sensitive to the evolving needs of members, beneficiaries, clients, and/or donors will be a key success factor for any nonprofit board.
  • When the board is confident that it has ensured a culture of continuous improvement and strategic success, where outcomes and impact meet the needs of stakeholders, they can be satisfied that they are effective (for now).
  • To be high performing, the board needs to be responsive to both success and opportunities for improvement (sometimes called ‘failure’). To assess themselves as high performing they would need to demonstrate that they were constantly renewing strategic and operational focus to ensure relevance to their evolving stakeholder needs.

Board Conversations

Another determinant of board effectiveness is the intentional focusing of board deliberations on each of the key elements of the board’s governance role. The way the agenda is structured, and the time budget allocated to each of the key elements, are therefore important levers for use by the chair and others.

Board Intelligence has identified six essential board conversations that should be held during any director meeting. These are divided into two groups of three focal areas related to the steering and supervising aspects of governance. The chart below reorients the MELD Reflective Governance diamond to overlay these six focal areas.

To the extent that directors are checking to ensure that these conversations are balanced and appropriately prioritised from time to time, this will aid board effectiveness. Skewing agendas to focus only on reports and updates related to the supervisory and oversight role, even if that was well done, would signal that the board was operating in a sub-optimal way.

Board Intel

Whether we are talking about monitoring the strategic environment to inform the adjustment of our corporate strategy, or monitoring and overseeing the execution of that strategy and operational matters, intelligence gathering, analysis, and synthesis are integral to organisational effectiveness, and of course, to board effectiveness.

Intel is defined as useful information concerning a subject of interest. When we refer to intel in a non-profit environment though it sounds a little like Austin Powers or Johnny English – pretending to be intelligence officers.

In fact, we use multiple intelligence sources for different purposes all the time. Some do this very well, with the distillation of useful data into dashboards and other formats that make key data intelligible for use by directors. Others do it less well, with reporting formats that are too sparse, too technical, or too detailed.

The chart below suggests a range of intelligence source types used to answer three main questions:

  • What happened (descriptive intelligence)?
  • Why did it happen? (diagnostic intelligence), and
  • What’s likely to happen? (predictive intelligence)

To the extent that your board is well served by the provision of useful intel, it will be more effective. You may wish to consider the benefit of your Governance Committee spending some time reviewing this aspect of decision support for your board’s deliberations.

Board effectiveness review logic model

Several logic models have been included in this series on board effectiveness evaluation. The version presented below offers explanatory notes on each of the elements (or stages) in another version of the logic model, which may be of assistance to committees charged with the development of a plan for evaluating your board’s effectiveness.

A careful reading of these notes will highlight the differences in the nature of focal areas to be evaluated across the elements/stages. You may well be able to use quantitative data for some elements, but others will require qualitative evaluation. In the meantime, it is also important to move beyond summative assessments of what has already happened, to evaluate what areas require the implementation of an improvement plan via formative evaluations.

Revisiting types of evaluations

Having mentioned summative and formative evaluations above, the next chart offers yet another version of an evaluation typology. This can be read alongside the types and models referenced in Parts 2, 3, and 4 of this series. While this version overlaps a little with some of those previously offered, it provides a different clustering which may be helpful for your Governance Committee when considering the development or refinement of your Measurement, Evaluation, and Learning Framework.

In closing …

I trust that some of the ideas and suggestions offered in this extended series on board effectiveness evaluation have been helpful to readers who are responsible for improving governance and its outcomes/impact.

Effectiveness is defined differently depending on your context and circumstances. There is no single solution that you can select ‘off-the-shelf’ that is universally relevant and useful. So feel free to adapt the ideas you encounter on this topic so that they are ‘fit-for-your-purpose’.

To conclude, I offer this thought-provoking contrast of views and perspectives on measurement – for your reflection as you ‘take care of the present’.

See also:

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