Part of good governance is the process of stepping back and looking at what you’ve done over the past year to decide if what you’ve accomplished met your targets. Today I went through that process as prompted by a series of surveys and I realized what a horrible way that is of evaluating groups and individuals who fulfill a governance role not an operational one. But I wonder what the right way to do that evaluation might be. Thoughts?

I think a person could make a career of figuring out how to work with governance bodies (i.e. boards) to:

  1. define what they want to accomplish as a board
  2. measure what was accomplished as a board
  3. assess success and define next steps

I mean if you have ever sat on a board, likely one of two things has happened. First, you were the only people around so you ended up divvying up the work amongst yourselves and then you got down to getting things done. Second, you spent a lot of time thinking about where the organization should go and what the organization should do, and very little about what the board needs to be doing to enable that. In the first case, there’s no time for thinking about the future because you’re so busy dealing with the minutia. In the second, you’re offloading accountability onto the next level down (aka management) and taking no responsibility for your decisions. Neither of these is appropriate, or frankly, effective since the priority for any governance body should be accountability and oversight.

But think about how hard that is. Your role is not doing, but rather creating a vision and holding it so firmly about yourself that all those around you begin to see it too. Then, through careful oversight, you need to guide those around you towards that vision, stewarding them towards a vision only you can see. Now take 11 strangers and get them to come to consensus about how you will all define and defend that vision and you begin to see the challenge around just the first of the tasks above…how, as a board, do you define in concrete terms what you want to accomplish. Now take something as ephemeral as “a vision” and guiding all the varied people in an organization towards that vision, and figure out how to measure what you accomplish. You can’t measure whether the projects enacted to get to a particular outcome were accomplished, you have to measure what you as a board achieved through your force of will in order to guide an organization forwards. And then you need to determine if you were successful. Hell, with 12 of you in the room, even defining success may not be as easy as it sounds. And governance work is long term. Like REALLY long term. So by the time you get there, there’s a good chance your definition of success has changed.

So when I sit down and answer 1-5 rated questions about board effectiveness and my peer’s understanding of their role I can confidently say that I’m accomplishing precisely squat. Feel good ratings of “hey, you’re good director” only reinforce the fact that we don’t even know what we wanted to accomplish. And if there were people on the board who were disruptive to the coalescence of a vision or unable to embody its nature, asking if they are familiar (familiar…really?!?) with the vision and mission is not going to give you the tools to fix it. If there’s someone out there that knows how to do this, please come talk to me. Otherwise, I think I have a bunch of work to do.


Jon Holt

A coach, an entrepreneur, and a no-bull advisor in growing small businesses through the use of practical strategy, light-weight governance and sitting back and thinking about running your business, regardless of what you do.

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