Self-evaluation is one way to continuously improve board performance.

As mentioned in a previous article self-evaluation gives board members the opportunity to reflect on their understanding of the association, their roles and duties, the roles and responsibilities of staff, their preparation for meetings, and how satisfied each are with their contributions to the board.

I recently attended a Canadian Society of Association Executives (CSAE) session on building a “board recruitment, orientation and evaluation process that really works” and the presenter spoke of “best practices” in board evaluation. At the top of the list were both annual evaluation and peer-to-peer evaluation of individual board members as well as the board chair.

Peer-to-peer evaluation provides your board members with a performance review of their participation and identifies areas where improvement can take place.

The chair of the governance committee can set up an evaluation questionnaire (similar to the self-evaluation questionnaire I talked about in a previous blog) asking board members to rate their colleagues based on a scale from 1-3 (outstanding contribution, satisfactory contribution, and improvement required).

The questionnaire results should be handled on a confidential basis and should go to the chair. Using the praise in public and criticize in private model, any discussions regarding “improvement needed” performance should take place between the chair and the individual board member(s).

The Law Society of Upper Canada has a template that can help in creating a structure around the types of questions and format your questionnaire can take. It’s important to present this as a positive experience designed to make the board stronger and more effective.

Another tool available to associations is to continually evaluate the effectiveness of board meetings. After each board meeting some boards make it a practice to send an online questionnaire to each attendee requesting feedback on the meeting to help better prepare for future board meetings. You can use a scale from 1-3 (poor to excellent) for each question.

At Strauss, we use QuestionPro – a no-cost survey solution. Another popular free solution is SurveyMonkey.

Our post-board meeting surveys have sections that ask about the quality of pre-meeting information, a section on meeting effectiveness, and a section on directors fulfilling their duties.

The survey questions are designed to probe board members to look at how effective the meetings are being run and how well prepared board members are for meetings. Possible questions to assess the information provided to board in advance include:

  • The board information package was received in a timely manner
  • The materials received in advance provided me with sufficient time to prepare for the meeting
  • Appropriate information was available to support the board in making informed decisions

Possible questions to determine how effective the meetings were perceived by board members are:

  • The meeting’s agenda items were appropriate for board discussion
  • Time was used effectively and discussions were focused
  • We avoided getting into administrative management details
  • The chair guided the meeting effectively and encouraged participation
  • Next steps and action items were identified and documented

Possible questions to determine how well the directors felt they were fulfilling their duties include:

  • All directors were prepared for the meeting
  • There was a positive climate of trust and respect
  • Directors participated in a responsible way and made decisions with the right perspective

The information above includes some of the tools available to help your board evaluate its effectiveness. As time and resources become scarcer, it is very important to measure and track how well your board is supporting the association’s mission.

Evaluation is the cornerstone to improving board effectiveness and is a simple, low cost method of ensuring board integrity and efficiency.