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In my last column, I wrote about asking what type of director you want to be and taking lessons from observing others.
In addition to this informal approach, another important aspect of your development as a governor will be participating in regular board reviews.
Far from a box-ticking exercise that you undertake to satisfy your shareholders or reassure stakeholders that the board is functioning and productive, a board evaluation provides a tangible opportunity to reflect on your performance.
For directors, a review can help identify personal and professional development needs. You should expect insights into your style and its effectiveness. It will help clarify your skillset and how it complements the mix in the boardroom.
It may help affirm your commitment to the organisation and enable you to reflect on why you are sitting at the table.
Alternatively you may realise that a different skill set is now required and it is time to move on. There is no shame in that.
The feedback may give you greater confidence to contribute and confirm that your viewpoint is valued. Alternatively, you may hear some uncomfortable truths.
Three-hundred-and-sixty degree evaluations can be challenging, but then so too is being oblivious to perspectives and not having an opportunity to learn and grow from the insights.
For the board as a whole, an evaluation is about accountability. There is no hiding from the report that comes.
If you are the chair, it may help identify gaps in your leadership or in the skill sets around the table. It may highlight improvements required in the decision-making processes or governance structures. It may also reveal a lack of cohesion between members of the board and the strategic objectives of the entity — that will inevitably lead to some robust debate!
A board review can take many forms, and a variety of organisations including the Institute of Directors can assist with the process.
From simple question sets to reviewing governance materials, one-to-one interviews to observing meetings, like any matter it is about right-sizing it for your organisation and budget.
Taking some time to reflect on what you want the evaluation process to achieve and what the specific objectives of it are is important, too.
Rather than dust off last year’s question set or borrow one from another organisation, as a board define the substantive outcome you are seeking.
For example, are you focused on performance, perhaps it is process, or maybe it is about board dynamics or how effective you are at focusing on strategy.
Make it safe for people to participate. Confidentiality is a good start, but ease of participation is something to think about, too.
If it is all too hard or the questions are not phrased well, then watch the fence sitters appear and the resulting data becomes less useful.
You want candid responses and for directors to be introspective about their own performance, a skilled interviewer external to the organisation can help achieve this.
The clue is in the name; it is a board evaluation and therefore board-led, but consider if it will also be informed by the perspectives of your management.
Each month they sit around the table with you and have a unique perspective of how you function and perform. As such their feedback may be invaluable.
Having completed the review and received the report, what is next? It is time for action, be it you as an individual director or the board as a collective whole.
Put in on the board agenda, facilitate robust debate on the findings and plans should follow.
A board evaluation is a unique opportunity to receive feedback and guidance from your colleagues. Embrace it and the lessons and take another step towards being a more capable director.
Trish Oakley is the chairwoman of the Otago Southland branch of the Institute of Directors (IOD). IOD is the professional body for directors and is at the heart of New Zealand's governance community.