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Evaluating the Board’s Performance: How’s the Board Doing? Grading the Board

IT WAS NEW YORK MAYOR Ed Koch, who served from 1978 to 1989, asking the man-on-the-street New Yorkers the endless question, “How’m I doing?” Many performance scientists warn that such clumsy tactics are ineffective and unreliable. In addition, there is no measurement in Hizzoner’s approach. If you wish to see your board perform at a higher and more admirable level, take a professional approach to board performance evaluation.

Three keys to improving board performance in your club are: 1) educate all board members to the premise that the board deliberates as many and governs as one; 2) all board discussions should be treated with the utmost confidentiality and discretion; and 3) board members will evaluate one another through consistent peer review.
In 2018 Steve Klemash, Rani Doyle and Jamie C. Smith posted the following critical factors for effective board evaluation in the EY Center for Board Matters at the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance:

  • Focusing director introspection on actual board, committee and director performance compared to agreed-upon board, committee and director performance goals, objectives and requirements.
  • Eliciting valuable and candid feedback from each board member, without attribution if appropriate, about board dynamics, operations, structure, performance and composition.
  • Reaching board agreement on action items and corresponding timelines to address issues observed in the evaluation process.
  • Holding the board accountable for regularly reviewing the implementation of evaluation-related action items, measuring results against agreed-upon goals and expectations, and adjusting actions in real-time to meet evaluation goals and objectives.

Private club members expect their servant leaders to function like corporate boards. The Harvard study revealed that 40% of Fortune 100 proxy filers disclosed the general topics covered by the evaluation. These disclosures typically focus on core board duties and responsibilities and oversight functions, such as:

  • Strategy, risk and financial performance
  • Board composition and structure
  • Company integrity, reputation and culture
  • Management performance and succession planning

About 40% of Fortune 100 proxy filers disclosed use of questionnaires in their evaluation process, with 15% disclosing use of only questionnaires and 25% disclosing use of both questionnaires and interviews.

For a private club, a 360-degree peer evaluation of fellow board members should ask the following questions concerning board meeting performance:
1. Was our meeting productive?
2. Did we follow the agenda in a business-like manner?
3. Did everyone have the opportunity to speak and be heard?
4. Was our conduct respectful toward one another?
5. Were committee reports well prepared and presented?
6. Did all board members participate?
7. Are all members honoring the board’s commitment to confidentiality?

The board should be conducting a self-evaluation after each board meeting with a mind to continuous improvement. Although many members of the club’s board possess a depth of experience in corporate and community leadership with board service, there is no substitute for diligent dialogue and self-evaluation.

Unlike the face-to-face impact of direct feedback Mayor Koch sought, the productive and reliable measurement of board effectiveness is regular self-evaluation. Simple tools like Survey Monkey are effective, timely and cost-efficient. The National Club Association offers a plethora of board leadership resources on their website

Henry DeLozier is a principal at GGA Partners, an international club management consulting firm that provides specialized services to more than 3,000 clients from offices in Toronto, Phoenix and Dublin (IR). He can be reached at [email protected].