Board Membership 101: Self-Evaluation

Since boards of directors are self-governing bodies, it’s important that they take the time to reflect on their performance both individually and as a group. The New York Stock Exchange requires listed companies to participate in some form of an annual self-evaluation, so many organizations already have a process in place.

But for some of these companies, board self-evaluation can be met with an attitude of obligation rather than receptivity to the benefits of a well-executed assessment.

For other, smaller companies, the practice of yearly self-evaluations has simply been overlooked in the past. These assessments, however, provide an outstanding resource for bettering board functionality. For example:

  • Board self-evaluations can help identify group strengths and weaknesses.
  • Willingness to self-assess sets the tone for the organization at large; it shows that board members are taking their roles seriously by reviewing their own performances through a critical lens.
  • Discussing board members’ responsibilities and goals can create a more unified and collaborative working environment.
  • Tracking year-over-year changes in board members’ responses can provide meaningful insight into a changing board landscape.

To learn more about board surveys specifically, visit our “Four Questions about Board Surveys” post. It explains who should administer the surveys, what they should contain, and how often the practice should take place.

So your board of directors has participated in a self-assessment—now what? Unfortunately, many boards stop right there. They check the evaluation off their to-do list and move on without reaping the benefits of the process. Great board self-regulation means taking what you’ve learned from those evaluations and putting it to good use.

For instance, in the survey process, board members might discover that they collectively feel as though meetings are ineffectively running too long. In that case, they can review their options for strengthening meeting processes and make changes accordingly.

Boards, just like businesses, are ever evolving. Because board members don’t have anyone watching over their shoulders, it’s important that they take on that responsibility for themselves. Otherwise, how will they know how to improve?

As Spencer Stuart, one of the world’s leading executive search consulting firms writes, “Boards have to be open to the results of the assessment and be prepared to deal with the findings. This involves having an open discussion among the board members about performance issues that were raised and prioritizing items that should be addressed in the coming year.”

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