Author Archives: Judith Nicol

A Board Evaluation must look beyond the Board.

A Board Evaluation must look beyond the Board.

Our strong view is that a systemic approach to Board Effectiveness is more likely to reveal important issues which, left unchecked, could threaten the long term wellbeing of an organisation. Our systemic approach to Board Effectiveness can best be described as follows. We argue that a Board cannot assess its effectiveness solely in relation to itself but also has to look outside itself to consider whether it is effective in relation to its stakeholders and environment.

Ultimately a Board only exists in relation to the organisation it serves, the stakeholders who have an interest in its long term success and the context in which it operates. Consequently a review must take account of all of these.

And yet most Board Reviews focus on a relatively narrow evaluation of Board processes. Why is this? The glib answer is that this is the easiest element to approach mechanically both for the Board concerned and the Board reviewer. And it will almost certainly yield some improvements, tweaks or refinements that can be made, giving the sense that progress is being made and that it has been a worthwhile exercise.

But we believe that the success of a Board Review cannot be assessed purely using this criterion. One of the areas where we nearly always find scope for improvement is how a Board connects with its stakeholders. Often our desk research reveals, for example, that the organisation makes public statements on its website about the importance of its staff, customers and suppliers to its ongoing success. Rarely is this reflected in the focus of the Board.

How does a Board ensure it maintains an ongoing conversation with all of those stakeholders on whom it relies for future success? How does it ensure it receives regular input from them about their current and emerging needs? What could they be doing and thinking to future proof the organisation? Who are they taking inputs from about emerging trends and changes in their sector? How are they getting their heads around changes in working patterns going forwards? How does the Board determine and measure the culture which underpins how it runs itself, the wider organisation and its relationships with outside parties?

A Board Effectiveness Review will not provide instant answers to any of these questions but it will shine a light on the real work a Board needs to do going forwards in order to be sustainable. And yes, of course it also needs good processes to underpin its work. But these are the “means” not the “end”.

Processes by themselves however robust do not make a Board effective. And therefore simply to focus on this element in a Board Review has very limited value.


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