We have discussed this subject in previous articles, but let us recap and put it very simply, self-assessment is one of the most effective ways to move your board and board leaders to the next level of performance. And if you’re like most, that’s something you want to do!

Why conduct a board self-assessment?

Are you wondering whether you should change your board’s size or composition? Restructure your committees? Put term limits in place? Do you want to step up your board’s engagement? Explore issues related to board/staff relations? Or determine how your board is performing in fundraising or other key areas of responsibility?

A board self-assessment is an efficient way to get input from all of your board members on how the full board is performing against generally accepted best practice standards and use that information to create positive change! It leads to a shared understanding of the board’s responsibilities related to compliance, accountability, financial oversight, and ultimately, setting direction for the organization. And it provides the framework for setting priorities that will maintain your strengths and will address those areas in need of improvement, such as fundraising, strategic planning, or perhaps recruitment.

Through several surveys we have documented that self-assessment works! According to the our latest survey "The challenges of Boards in 2014" (IMG Research Institute, November 2013), boards that have conducted a self-assessment are rated more effective by their chief executives than those that have not (68 percent vs. 37 percent).

The assessment must be planned and tailored to the situation, so when is a good time to assess your board’s performance?

  • In preparation for a board retreat focused on setting board development and organizational priorities
  • In preparation for a change in board structure or practice
  • In preparation for strategic planning
  • Every two years to monitor progress in board development

What will you accomplish by conducting a diversity and inclusion assessment?

If you’re like most board leaders, you understand the need to increase board diversity and adopt more inclusive practices. It’s the “how to do it” that has so many boards stuck. A diversity and inclusion assessment can

  • serve as the starting point for your board to develop an action plan to strengthen its practices in this area or jumpstart a stalled plan
  • help your board determine if it’s on the right path to becoming diverse and inclusive
  • provide you with the opportunity to educate your board members about the practices and policies that will move you forward in this area

Very few organizations, after all, can afford to be out of touch with the needs of the communities they serve. To make sure that your programs and services remain relevant, effective, and grounded in the needs of the diverse communities you serve, you must gather differing voices around your board table and adopt an inclusive culture. A diversity and inclusion assessment can help you chart a path there.

Why assess your individual board members’ performances?

An effective board functions as a team, but, as we all know, the success of a team depends on the efforts and skills of each individual team member. By gathering feedback from all of your board members about their own individual performances as well as the performances of their peers, you’ll get a rare insight into how the culture and dynamics of your full board are impacted by the style and engagement of your individual members. Peer-to-peer assessment provides your individual board members with an opportunity to reflect on as well as learn from their colleagues what aspects of their service add value to the board team and what aspects might be strengthened. This process will help you get at the “soft skills” that are necessary for a collective board to function successfully by opening the doors to discussions on these skills and the importance of working as a team.

To strengthen your board from a collective as well as individual standpoint, IMG recommends that boards conduct board self-assessments and peer-to-peer assessments in alternating years.

Why assess the chief executive’s performance?

Because it makes for happier CEOs! According to the above-mentioned survey by IMG Research Institute, an annual performance assessment is central to a chief executive’s job satisfaction!

Why is that? There are many reasons, but in our experience, the following stand out:

Opportunity for the board and CEO to agree on what’s important.“If I had known the board expected that, I would have focused on it!” is a common refrain from chief executives. The assessment process provides the board and chief executive with an opportunity to discuss and agree upon the executive’s priorities for the year ahead — as distinct from the organization’s priorities — and helps to ensure that everyone shares common expectations for performance.

A chance to say “Well done.” A strong board supports and guides the chief executive; an annual evaluation kick-starts those efforts each year. While some may consider performance assessment an opportunity to find fault or problems, boards should enter the process with a positive outlook and a desire to strengthen the performance and effectiveness of the chief executive and the partnership between the board and executive — thereby strengthening the organization as a whole. In many cases, the outcome of the assessment is a strong endorsement of the executive’s performance, which serves to re-energize the chief executive and affirm that he or she — and the organization — are headed in the right direction.

It might be tied to a legal obligation! As a result of the financial crisis, many countries have introduced new rules for the appointment of boards - especially in financial companies. Performance evaluation is a part of that process in some countries.

It’s lonely at the top! The chief executive’s position within the organization, with no peers and no direct supervisor, makes it difficult for him or her to obtain honest feedback to use as a basis for improving performance. The assessment process provides one of the few opportunities the executive has to obtain insight into his or her strengths, limitations, and overall performance.

Failure to adequately evaluate the chief executive can be costly, resulting in mistrust, strained working relationships, ongoing poor performance, and even turnover.