Jane Stuchberry discusses how a board can gather regular, ongoing feedback about its performance through a quick and simple pulse-check.
Each of us wants to be associated with a high-performing board, so a key question for every director is: What are the things that outstanding boards do more frequently and more effectively than their poorer performing counterparts?
While there are several differentiating factors, perhaps a key one is the way in which the board focuses on continuous improvement.
According to research undertaken by the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI), “good boards tend to go through a process of continuous self assessment – discussions that have been had throughout the year ought to be fed into the formal evaluation process”.
So how should a board gather regular, ongoing feedback about its performance? And, what is the best way to feed this into an annual board evaluation?
One approach involves undertaking a board pulse-check — a quick review at the end of each meeting of what went well and what could have been done better.
Many boards and committees take five or so minutes at the end of the meeting to check for a common understanding of meeting outcomes and to review their performance.
This practice, however, frequently suffers from several limitations, including:
- It can result in a rehash or repeat of information discussed at the meeting and not add much value.
- It may not hear from every director (more vocal directors may dominate).
- Directors may not feel comfortable sharing negative feedback.
- Feedback may not be formally captured or recorded.
- Feedback is rarely fed into the formal board evaluation process.
So what is the best way to undertake a board pulse-check that contributes to continuous improvement of board functioning?
The checklist to the right includes the key elements of an effective board pulse-check.
A board pulse-check app on a smartphone or tablet is also a useful tool to ensure that every director can quickly and easily provide confidential, anonymous feedback which is systematically collected each meeting.
Importantly, this feedback can then be automatically fed into, and form the basis for, the annual board evaluation process.
The questions on the app can be tailored to the key areas where the board would like to see improvement.
For example, if your board has a tendency to allow too much discussion on operational matters, your pulse-check could include an item such as: “The chairman ensures that discussion does not stray into operational detail.”
As with any performance improvement process, the key to success is ensuring that performance evaluation is not a once-a-year event, but is part of an ongoing process of monitoring and feedback.
The use of the board pulse-check ensures that directors are continuously reflecting on how they can improve their contributions.
It also allows the chairman to tap into “real-time” feedback on individual and board performance.
Elements of an effective board pulse-check:
- It is a quick and simple exercise.
- It has no more than 10 questions.
- The questions focus only on things that need improvement, (not on things the board consistently does well).
- Questions are simply worded.
- It uses a standard set of questions every meeting to track improvement.
- It incorporates both closed-and open-ended questions, including “what went well?” and “what could we do better?”.
- It covers multiple aspects of the board meeting, including:
- Agenda setting.
- Board papers.
- Dynamics and behaviour.
- It confidentially canvasses the views of every director.
- It is systematically collected each board meeting.
- It is fed into annual board evaluation process.
- It checks understanding of key resolutions, action points, etc.
- It uses smart technology to achieve the above.
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