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QUESTION 12: How Can Our Board Self-Evaluation Improve Our Functioning and Our Output?

By John Pearson

“The Acid Test of Effective Corporate Governance”

A board member, clearly proud that he had invested 250 hours onboard work the previous year, told Ram Charan, “We put in a lot of hard work.”

But Charan, wisely, pushed past the rhetoric and non-measurable metrics—and instead—threw him this zinger: “Let me ask you something. What would you say are the one or two things your board did that really made a difference for the [organization]?”

You guessed it. The board member “…took a long pause and looked up at the ceiling. He seemed lost in thought like he was struggling to come up with a concrete answer. As I waited for him to respond, I realized that he probably had never thought about his board work in that way.”

QUESTION 12 of 14: How Can Our Board Self-Evaluation Improve Our Functioning and Our Output? Owning Up: The 14 Questions Every Board Member Needs to Ask, by Ram Charan (Order from Amazon)

Board members “should not confuse hard work, as commendable as it is, with meaningful results,” writes Ram Charan. That insight is just on the first of 14 wisdom-packed pages in Chapter 12 on the critical need for boards to conduct self-evaluations.

Charan adds, “The board’s output—the quality of the decisions it makes and actions it takes—is the acid test of effective corporate governance.”

Don’t confuse inputs (meeting frequency, meeting length, etc.) with outputs. Boards should “explicitly state that the central purpose of their board self-evaluation process is to continuously improve their ability to govern effectively.”

Peter Drucker agrees:

“Self-assessment can and should convert good intentions and knowledge into effective action—not next year but tomorrow morning.”


The Drucker quote is from the robust 30-page resource, “Tool #5: The Board’s Annual Self-Assessment Survey,” in ECFA Tools and Templates for Effective Board Governance: Time-Saving Solutions for Your Board. According to ECFA’s research (see page 32), 31% of board members said YES to this question: “In the last two years, have you had an outside person help your board look in the mirror to do self-assessment for how it could improve?”

Tool #5 gives you multiple options in three major sections:
• Section 1: Do-It-Yourself
• Section 2: Facilitated by a Consultant or Board Coach
• Section 3: Template: “Best Governance Practices” Survey

If you opt for the Do-It-Yourself approach, Tool #5 gives you seven options, including this free assessment from ECFA:

CLICK HERE to complete the NonprofitBoardScore™, a tool developed by ECFA. The online survey will give you instant feedback and allow you to re-take the evaluation over and over (perhaps every six months or at least annually). Email the link to everyone on your board—and encourage each board member to save and print the results for discussion (and action!) at your next board meeting.

READY FOR CANDOR? If you have a healthy board—competent in Governance 101 practices—and you’re ready for a challenge, ask your Governance Committee (or Executive Committee) to consider peer evaluations at least once a year. Very common in for-profit governance, peer evaluations are very uncommon within nonprofit ministry boards. Read Ram Charan’s suggestions in Chapter 12 first—and then discern if your board is ready to go deeper.

According to the Harvard Business Review article, “What Makes Great Boards Great,” by Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld, it is the soft side of board governance that distinguishes high-quality boards from the rest of the governance rat race. He labels it a “virtuous cycle of respect, trust and candor”—but, he warns, even that can be broken at any point. For your first peer review, perhaps ask a board coach to help you set the guardrails.

To paraphrase Proverbs 9:7, “Teach a wise board member, and he or she will be the wiser; teach a good board member, and he or she will learn more.”

BOARDROOM DISCUSSION: What do we want to learn from our next board self-evaluation? Ram Charan writes that board members “should not confuse hard work, as commendable as it is, with meaningful results.” What are the one or two things our board has done in the last six months that has really made a difference for the ministry?

CHECK OUT THESE HELPFUL ECFA RESOURCES

• READ: Lesson 1, “Wanted: Lifelong Learners. Would you trust a surgeon who stopped learning?” in Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom. (Click here to read the four-page chapter.) In his color commentary on this lesson, Ralph E. Enlow, Jr., writes, “I find that the fatal combination of passivity and agenda clutter conspires to crowd out efforts to walk the talk of continuous board development.” (Read the blog.)

• TOOL: With 30 pages and more than a dozen self-assessment options, check out “Tool #5: The Board’s Annual Self-Assessment Survey,” in ECFA Tools and Templates for Effective Board Governance: Time-Saving Solutions for Your Board. (Read more here.)

 

This article was originally posted on the “Governance of Christ-Centered Organizations” blog, hosted by ECFA.
John Pearson, a board governance consultant and author, was ECFA’s governance blogger from 2011 to 2020.
© 2021, ECFA and John Pearson. All rights reserved.


This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.

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