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How to Maintain Your Commitment to Conduct a Board Self-Assessment

It’s that time of year again; time for New Year’s Resolutions.

According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute, a full 45% of Americans “usually make New Year’s resolutions” and an additional 17% “who infrequently make New Year’s resolutions.” When we do make them, our resolutions tend to be about things that don’t come easily otherwise. Separately, BoardSource’s 2015 “Leading with Intent: A National Index of Non-Profit Board Practices” informs us that 29% of non-profits “have never done a board self-assessment,” while 14% “conducted an assessment 3 or more years ago.” It would seem, then, that this is a realm where organizations could benefit greatly from making a few New Year’s resolutions.

Yet, as our friends at the Statistic Brain Research Institute also point out, only 8% of people “are successful in achieving their resolution.” Ugh. Thankfully, though, as with our own personal New Year’s resolutions, there are a few things organizations can do to increase their success rate in maintaining their resolutions to conduct an annual board self-assessment.

Tips to Increase Success Rates Conducting  a Board Self-Assessment

Keep it Simple

Often the best of intentions crater under the weight of their own stratospheric ambition and complexity. This certainly occurs with the always-popular resolutions around grand plans to lose weight, spend less / save more, or “live life to the fullest.” But at BoardEffect we’ve also observed the opposite to be true: simplifying things makes it a lot easier to stick with such endeavors that require resolve and discipline. For instance, this past year we implemented a framework for performance evaluations based on three simple questions. Likewise, we removed from the initiative any and all ratings / rankings in favor of making it easy to administer. After prior unsuccessful attempts to implement such a system, the result was near universal completion and significant value to the business. Similarly, in the case of board self-assessments, less might just end up being more.

Set the Stakes Low

Too often worthwhile resolutions can run completely off the rails with the first missed work-out or failure to resist junk-food cravings. In such cases, pressure to perform and related consequences have been set too high. Conversely, it helps to lower the expectations and the stakes. This was a key to success with the performance evaluations mentioned above. In addition to omitting quantitative ratings, the evaluations had no implications whatsoever on team members’ compensation or promotion. Absent pressures inevitably related to such matters, evaluations were completed on a more consistent and timely basis and with far less drama. The same approach with board self-assessments can lower resistance from directors who are less apt to perceive the evaluation as judgmental of their performance and more inclined to see it as informative for growth.

Let Technology Assist

You don’t have to go it alone. If your resolution is to save money, countless software solutions are available to support your efforts (e.g. Quicken,, online banking, etc.). If fitness is your objective, FitBits’ data-driven dietary guidance and personalized / computerized work-out schedules help remove the guess-work. Similarly, technology can assist in the seemingly daunting task of implementing a board self-assessment. Board portals offer everything from templates with sample evaluation questions to survey-creation capabilities to easy aggregation and analysis of responses. Likewise, a vibrant community of governance-technology professionals stands at the ready with valuable insights earned in their own efforts to conduct board self-assessments. The support systems are there to help you maintain your resolution.

According to Statistic Brain Research Institute:

“People who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t explicitly make resolutions.”

With this knowledge, and with these simple tips, is this the year for a New Year’s resolution to conduct a board self-assessment?


Todd Gibby

Todd Gibby is the Chief Executive Officer of BoardEffect, with a primary focus on supporting client organizations in achieving their governance goals. Todd joined BoardEffect in early 2014, after having previously served as the president of Hobsons’ higher education division. Todd became part of Hobsons in 2011 through the acquisition of Intelliworks, where he was CEO. Earlier, Todd held numerous executive leadership positions at Blackboard, playing an instrumental role in the company’s trajectory from a start-up software company to the global leader in digital education.

Todd sits on the board of directors for Compass of Greater Philadelphia and the Rassias Center at Dartmouth College. He also serves as the Network Officer for the Washington DC Chapter of Young Presidents Organization and advises several early-stage companies. He is a frequent public speaker, social media writer, and a contributor to Wharton Entrepreneurship blog.

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