In my last blog I wrote about Board Self-Assessments. The next level of reflection is the peer evaluation when board members assess each other’s performance. This creates accountability by reinforcing expectations, it gives the governance committee great insights about the strengths and weaknesses of the board and it is an opportunity for boards to gracefully part ways when there are problems or issues.
There are two elements to a peer review – how well the board member fulfils their duties and how well they relate to others. Some people can excel in one area while falling short in the other.
How well the board member fulfills their duties can be directly tied back to the expectations of board members in the Board Policy Manual. While the board members won’t be able to assess whether a member is a donor of record, they can assess their attendance record, whether their colleague comes to the meeting prepared, whether they ask appropriate questions at an appropriate level of governance, if they demonstrate a good understanding of the financial situation, whether they contribute knowledgeably and constructively to board discussions and whether they are willing to take a stand or express their view to demonstrate independent thinking.
How well the board member relates to others can be assessed by questions about whether they have a good relationship with the CEO, Board Chair and fellow board members, whether they listen effectively to others’ ideas and viewpoints and whether they encourage contributions from other directors.
An open ended question for other comments or feedback allows for positive reinforcement and can reveal issues that may not have been addressed by the questions. It is important for the functioning of a board that all members respect and value one another so it is critical to periodically check for these qualities.
The ideal timing of a peer review is approximately one year prior to the member’s term renewal so the governance committee has enough time to fill a vacancy if the board member is not invited back for the next term. An online survey tool is best so board members can take the time and have the privacy to answer honestly and thoughtfully. Confidentiality and anonymity allows for the highest level of honesty.
A board peer assessment process has the potential to be uncomfortable however it gives the governance committee fair and objective information to discuss with the board member being evaluated and plan board development activities. In the event there is a problem, it allows for it to be managed or dealt with. Ultimately it builds a better board because good board members may not stay if poor performers are left to ride out their terms. If the peer assessments are returned with glowing reviews then the board is well on its way to great governance.