9 Steps to Stronger Board Performance

Managing the performance of your board is a constant cycle of foundation, action, and evaluation. Read to find out how each fits into the cycle.

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the January 2010 Associations Now Interactive Extra.

Take care of the fundamentals of board service. "[B]oard members are entrusted with individual responsibilities and obligations. This job description is frequently missing in action from board manuals and orientation programs. The results are high levels of ambiguity at best and dysfunctional behavior at worst." —"The Art of Responsible Boardmanship," by Nancy Axelrod, Associations Now Volunteer Leadership Issue, January 2009

Define both goals and metrics by which to measure progress toward those goals. It's hard to measure success if you haven't defined it in advance. Success metrics will be unique to every organization, but when the board outlines its goals for the association, it should quantify success and specify the board's role in achieving those goals.

Get the board on board with evaluation. A board must be committed to the value of measuring and evaluating performance. It may take some convincing, though. "Prepare ways to present governance evaluation as a positive and constructive experience—emphasize that governance is intended to be developmental, not judgmental." Anne L. DeCicco, CAE, Achieving Excellence in Association Governance, ASAE, 1996

Build accountability into all aspects of board activity. When board members' roles and tasks are clearly and openly defined, they know success will only result from their actions. For example, the New Jersey Society of Certified Public Accountants' Strategic Plan Metrics Dashboard features a column titled "Responsibility," which lists the individual board members and committees tasked with individual goals.

Put board activity and progress on record. Board meeting minutes "should reflect that the board members were prepared, participated actively, and decided issues without undue haste or pressure. ... Board minutes provide evidence of the level of care, obedience, and loyalty that the members exercised in carrying out their duties." "Directors & Officers — The Importance of Board Minutes," Croydon Consulting, 2005

Communicate early and often with your board chair. Keeping the board on task is as much art as science, and your board chair is your number-one ally. An idea from one CEO: Hold an informal weekly call, "a time for the chair and CEO to discuss any topic in private without being restricted by an agenda or an audience in the room."—"Critical Conversations," by Whitney Redding, Associations Now Volunteer Leadership Issue, January 2009

Ask the board to evaluate itself. This step can range from the simple (see sample 15-category evaluation) to the complex (see Self-Assessment tool from BoardSource.org), but the process of the board reviewing its own performance will give both CEO and board tangible feedback about where strengths and weaknesses lie.

Include an opportunity for personal reflection. Board members should evaluate their own individual performance as well to call attention to the importance of their personal contributions (or lack thereof) to the board's work.

Use evaluation results to start discussion on how to improve (and start the cycle again). "The instrument used is less important than the quality of interpretation of responses, discussion of findings and implications, and development of a performance improvement strategy." Glenn H. Tecker, President and CEO, Tecker Consultants LLC, July 30, 2008, ASAE Executive Management Listserver