Athena In Action November 1, 2019

Salon Highlights: Board Refreshes & Director Evaluations

By The Athena Alliance

What does your board need? What skills are lacking to get to the next level strategically and operationally? What skills and tools do you need for the board to be a true asset for your organization? As Athena member Carol Coughlin asked in a recent virtual salon, if you look at the next goal on the horizon—is yours the right board to get you there?

From board refreshes to director evaluations, read our key takeaways from Carol’s recent virtual salon exclusively for Athena members. Members can watch the full salon recording in the member resource library.

  1. Use director feedback to get an accurate snapshot of your board and spur difficult conversations. One of her first board seats thrust Carol into an unanticipated situation: the CEO, COO, and board chair had a complex personal disagreement that bled over into the boardroom. By instituting 360-degree evaluations, they were able to get people’s honest feedback on the disagreement and the board’s function as a whole. Implementing 360-degree feedback “set the groundwork for a lot of steps we later took in the right direction.” When implementing 360-degree reviews…• Consider how you will administer the evaluation. You may choose to use an online tool like SurveyMonkey or engage a third-party app or individual to administer and analyze the survey.

    • Ask questions about the directors’ individual performance, the board and its function as a whole, as well as the individual committees the director participates in. Address any lingering issues through this evaluation to make informed solutions at the board level.

    • Frame questions in an open-ended manner that encourages directors to reveal their honest experiences and views.

    • Include both quantitative and qualitative questions, such as “How do you feel about your participation on the board on a 1-5 scale?” or “What barriers keep you from engaging to your fullest capacity with the board?”

    • Have 1:1 evaluations with each of the board members, then share whole-board-relevant findings with the full board. Individual meetings give you the opportunity to have difficult conversations as it becomes clear who needs to phase off the board as part of the refresh.

  2. Make an action plan based on what you learn. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for board refreshes. Through the feedback process, you will find common areas of improvement and frustration among board members. Some of these frustrations may require shifts in board construct, while others will require tactical changes to how you carry out board business.On Carol’s board, they consistently heard that the board didn’t discuss strategy enough during meetings and directors were frequently getting their hands too deep into operational management. As a result, they added strategic topics to the beginning of each agenda, provided templates for committees to report meeting progress rather than reporting summaries verbally to the full board, implemented an on-boarding process, and set specific rules to keep directors out of day-to-day management.
  3. Phase the roll-out of your board refresh as appropriate for your board construct. Your action plan may include strategies to phase out directors who no longer serve the strategic direction of the organization. Identify what critical skill sets are missing from your board to make it to the next level and build an ideal candidate profile that will help you find for your next board director.
  4. Don’t be afraid to stir the pot. Difficult conversations are inevitable when shaking up your board, but those conversations are essential for our fiducuary responsibility and for the long-term viability of the company. “Stirring the pot is necessary,” Carol explained. “On our board, having three new members with the right mindset and skill set created the environment for more robust conversations.”