The risk with some board effectiveness evaluations is that they can be mere box-ticking exercises.
Everyone is time-poor, and reflecting on your structures, roles, processes, and performance may feel like navel-gazing to some.
If your annual board evaluation simply puts some ratings against a checklist of questions, it won’t lead to identifying opportunities for improvement. Using that approach, you would miss the chance to add value to your governance role.
Some boards express their commitment to continuous improvement for the organisation, but forget to apply this to themselves. Even those that do self-evaluations don’t necessarily do an occasional ‘deep dive’ on a range of selected domains.
The concept of using your Board Effectiveness Evaluation Framework as a way to identify opportunities for improvement was highlighted in some recent posts. (See especially How effective is your Board? – Part 3). This acknowledges that rather than being a summative evaluation, the board’s aim is formative – seeking to enhance the quality of governance it provides.
Having identified those opportunities, your Board Development (Quality Improvement) Plan needs to come into play. This plan can detail the mechanisms for translating evaluation results into action plans for Board development, along with follow-up measures to ensure that value is extracted from those actions.
Board succession or board renewal?
Most Boards have some process of succession planning in place, even if it only involves the identification of likely future directors from current director networks. As your member or constituency needs change, you may need to appoint directors with a different skills mix to help the board address those emerging needs. This could better be described as renewal instead of succession.
Boards that use a skills matrix consider the range of skills that a new director will desirably bring to the table. They may even conduct selection interviews before choosing someone to be appointed. Boards that are elected from within a membership, however, are likely to have limited eligibility requirements. For them, a skills matrix is less of a selection tool and more of a director development diagnostic tool – like a training needs analysis.
It can be used to plan professional development for directors on any kind of board. Since the matrix will desirably be refined in light of changing strategic priorities, it can also help experienced directors to update or enhance their skills.
Board Performance and Development Plans
Boards are generally happy to establish CEO performance plans. This involves using a range of KPIs and Outcome measures to direct, monitor and manage the work completed by the CEO. Almost every board uses various metrics and measures to gauge organisational effectiveness and/or strategic impact. Very few boards, however, set performance plans for themselves.
Performance Plans are somewhat different from Development Plans. While both seek improvements, Performance Plans are more concerned with accountability, while Development Plans seek to support directors, both individually and collectively, to improve the quality of their governance efforts. A suggested template for a Performance Plan is offered below.
The Board Performance Plan could mirror the domain structure addressed in your board evaluation survey. In this case, it would extend across the full range of the board’s functions and responsibilities, rather than being limited to strategic roles and targets.
Focussing on outcomes
Outcomes are the changes achieved through deliberate efforts.
These can be assessed at various stages of an initiative, so the board can validate that it is on track or fine-tune the approach to improve its likely success.
Strategic initiatives expressed as immediate, intermediate, and ultimate outcomes underpin effective execution plans and ensure that evaluation of progress is not measured only via throughputs and outputs. The cascading outcomes chart below describes these three outcome types and links the ultimate outcomes back to the impact each initiative had on meeting the need as originally identified, or as redefined in the course of the work.
The three charts which follow refer to different aspects of your Board Development:
- The first invites reflection on the relationship between organisational maturity and individual director expertise.
- The second describes various inputs to the Board Development Plan, which inform the identification of group and individual professional development programs/activities, and also help shape the board’s succession plan.
- The third links various considerations in the shaping of a Development Plan with the action elements of the plan.
Three key resources used to update the skills matrix, and to guide the design of board and director development plans are:
- emerging strategic needs
- results of the most recent board evaluation
- results of the latest skills gap audit
Your strategy expresses your organisational priorities and is operationalised via the business plan. Within that plan, there will be governance and representational roles for the board to perform. Some will relate to monitoring and evaluation, while others may relate to providing guidance, support, or lobbying. For instance, directors may play an active role in advocacy work, or in communications and media relations. This could be supported by media training or advocacy skills training.
Individual director development and training programs are likely to take into account the director’s experience level and the role or roles they are asked to perform. They may also recognise the complexity or significance of the director’s work, their areas of special interest, and the need to stay up to date.
Another key element of a Board Development Plan is the support provided to new directors. Introducing them to the organisation’s purposes, vision, mission, values, strategy, finances, and operations is foundational to them becoming effective contributors to your organisation’s governance. Induction and mentoring support are most helpful in more effectively and rapidly engaging new directors with your systems and processes.
Your latest board evaluation is a diagnostic tool that can help your directors to feel supported in their work and confident in their roles.
Avoid treating the evaluation as an end in itself. Rather, use it to guide the board’s governance quality improvement efforts.