5 Common Board Self-Assessment Methods

Plus a thought about related policy

by Les Wallace, Ph.D.

A glance at most studies of board governance suggests less than half of all boards actively self-assess their performance. Yet, virtually all the governance literature agrees that board self-assessment is a critical tool for remaining sharp and growing competence. As the pressure grows for high-performance governance, transparency, and member responsiveness, a next generation of governance self-assessment will prove strategic.

Governance self-assessments need not be a burden. To help your board scope the possible landscape, we’ll review five choices boards have when accomplishing this important task.

1. In Real Time Each Meeting

A simple discipline that helps a board think more critically about its governance process is to conduct a quick assessment at the end of each meeting. This is a common practice of small groups and committees in the quality improvement movement and adapts quite well to board meetings.

Using open discussion or sometimes a quick paper survey, the chair asks each member to answer some questions about the meeting just ended: e.g., “Was the agenda well prioritized?” “Was there sufficient dialog before important decisions?” Was sufficient time spent on strategic issues?” This can be accomplished in open or executive/closed session. You can add questions important to your board process.

2. Annual Single-Focus Assessment

This is a less-complicated assessment than reviewing the full scope of governance practices. In this method the board selects one governance element to consider. Common topics are the strategic planning, CEO evaluation or officer selection processes. I’ve also seen boards used this method to assess meeting quality, nomination and new board member selection processes, and board communication, including the use of a board-only section on the organizational website.

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