Imagine that a board member is doing research about improving his or her participation on a board of directors. As part of that research, the member discovers some valuable articles about board self-assessment and becomes intrigued about using self-assessment tools to improve the performance of the board as a whole. With great excitement, the member makes the request to add board member self-assessments to the upcoming agenda for discussion and prepares to make a presentation of the benefits of doing self-assessments.
Imagine that same board member’s surprise to find that fellow board members seem bored and disinterested in learning about it. At the end of the presentation, several board members make it clear that their board is fine just as it is. Even more surprisingly, a few of the members raise specific, distinct objections to following through with board member self-assessments. The board member is left bewildered about how such a well-intentioned idea got shot down so quickly.
This fictitious board member quickly learned what other innovative board members have also found—not all board members are going to embrace the idea of starting to do self-assessments. In setting up a presentation to fellow board members on doing self-assessments, it also helps to do a little bit of homework on the types of objections that other members are likely to raise. Having ready answers to common objections can turn the tables when a discussion about board member self-assessments quickly turns sour.
The primary role of boards is to oversee the management of an organization to make sure that it remains healthy and prosperous. They do that by a process of collaborating with management and making their own checks on organizational reports, industry trends, and feedback from management and other stakeholders. Without a board’s self-check on their own ability to pursue those duties, the performance of the board may become weak or non-existent. A survey by The Governance Institute proved that boards that make self-assessments a high priority were associated with high performing boards. This is the overall answer to every objection, but an insightful board member will be prepared to answer specific objections like the ones that follow.
Five Objections to Self-Assessment
- Self-Assessments Are Not Necessary
A board member may offer the opinion that things are running smoothly as they are, so self-assessments are not necessary. That may be the case, but opposing opinions might suggest that they may be missing potential risks or opportunities without a means for holding themselves accountable.
- We Don’t Need Changes
This is the perfect springboard to start a board discussion about the top one or two board priorities. Differences of opinions between board members regarding top priorities can be used to flesh out all of the board duties. Proponents of self-assessments can use these types of discussions to encourage other board members to use self-assessment process as a means for identifying top priorities so they can be tackled in a manageable way. Another response is to suggest that self-assessments will identify areas where the board members are strongest and where they can use improvement.
- We Don’t Have Time
Boards always make time for the matters with the highest priorities. The answer to this objection lies in getting board members to agree that self-assessment should be on the list of high priorities. Proponents of doing self-assessments could further prove their point by demonstrating a reasonable timeline for completion or spreading the process out so the impact of time is minimal.
- We’ve Done it in the Past with Poor Results
Boards that have done self-assessments with poor results may need to examine the tools that they use to do self-assessments. If the tools are too general or not closely customized to the business of the organization, the board may need to look at a new process for self-evaluation. This could easily be performed in the work of a committee that is dedicated for the purpose of examining new tools and templates.
- We Have More Pressing Business
There is no doubt that crises and other pressing matters can surpass the need for doing a self-assessment. While self-assessment may take a back seat to other matters, keeping it on the list of high priorities is sure to yield results that will help boards prevent or better manage future crises.
A presentation on self-assessments is not always well-received by fellow board members. It helps to talk it up and present it with enthusiasm. A board member can further support the need for self-assessments by making note of a Leading with Intent survey which showed that 51% of organizations reported that they use a formal, written self-assessment to evaluate their board’s effectiveness. Proponents of doing self-assessments can counter objections by being prepared with solid answers to the most common objections. Despite the facts and statistics surrounding the benefits of doing board self-assessments, nay-sayers may refuse to change their stance. Hopefully, there will be enough swing-voters to pass a motion to support the inclusion of doing self-assessments.