Ten top tips

Without a doubt it is best practice to implement a regular evaluation and appraisal of board performance. The ten top tips below will help you make sure that your board evaluation really gets results.

Getting the most out of your board evaluation

According to the IoD’s Code of Practice systematic review of the performance of individual directors (including the chair) and of the board as a whole helps address weaknesses, increases skill levels and demonstrates a commitment to accountability.

Before you start

1. Be clear about the objective. The right attitudes are set when the board accepts that the aim of an evaluation is to learn how to become better at what they do. This spirit of improvement makes it much easier to discuss what does and does not currently work.

2. The chair’s leadership is critical. Before the evaluation starts, the chair should make it clear that open and honest feedback is both valuable and needed. The best way to do that is by the chair volunteering to have his or her own performance evaluated and discussed. The other directors will then most likely follow that example.

3. Allow enough time. Directors shouldn’t be surprised if they have to take their time and think carefully. Evaluations are important ways of gauging the performance of those at the head of the organisation. They should not be rushed.

4. Go right through the process. When completing a questionnaire, all evaluation questions should be answered. A good questionnaire is designed to look at the board from different perspectives and stimulate thinking about what could be improved. An individual question may not be as important as its part in the thinking process

5. Comment, comment and comment again…constructively. The results of the thinking process should be captured in comments, which are often the ‘gold’ of evaluations. A poor rating with suggestions for improvement is constructive. On the other hand, a destructive comment will not improve performance.

Reports – feedback to the board and your action plan

6. Be careful with individual feedback. Individual director evaluation reports are best handled through a one-on-one discussion, usually with the chair. It is not advisable to distribute or table individual director reports at the board meeting.

7. Allow time for discussion of the results. The board should set aside time to discuss the evaluation results fully and may need more than one session. This should be planned for as a vitally important agenda item, perhaps with a separate session of its own.

8. Discuss team issues openly. Team issues include the chair’s handling of meetings and other matters affecting team performance, such as the adequacy of board skills and whether the board spends time on the right things. Every director should have a copy of the whole of board report and come prepared for an open discussion.

9. Use the 80/20 rule when action planning. A thoroughly engaged board may well provide a great deal of comment and suggestions for improvement. However, there will be common themes and issues and out of those a few will have the most impact when addressed. Boards should focus on action plans around the few that will make the most difference. (A sample action plan is sent with the BetterBoards reports to the chair).

10. Chart progress. After action plans are set, progress needs to be measured. The board should allocate responsibilities and include progress reports as part of its forward agenda planning. After it is satisfied that actions have been completed, a new evaluation should be considered to provide an overall picture of progress and any new areas for attention.

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