Every college and university president needs to be assessed by themselves, by their board, and by an objective outsider. Assessing a president’s performance in order to build stronger performance is a process with three stages: ongoing feedback, annual reviews, and periodic comprehensive assessment. A thoughtful board chair and president engage in ongoing, informal assessments of circumstances and the executive’s response to them.
According to an AGB survey, approximately nine out of ten presidents undergo a formal review annually, usually comparing their objectives with achievements over the course of the year. Every three to five years, only about half undergo a comprehensive or 360-degree review, which is best conducted by an experienced outsider, such as a former president.
Boards and their presidents alike should embrace comprehensive assessment for at least three reasons.
First, no matter how capable the executive and satisfied the board, every leader has blind spots. A sensitive assessor will discover these through review of materials, interviews and their own observations. They enable the president to gain insight and control over personal flaws that heretofore they missed or ignored.
Second, comprehensive assessment includes reconnaissance of environmental forces surrounding the executive to uncover realities that may elude the president’s awareness. “Intel” such as board member opinions, faculty attitudes, donor perceptions, trends in the industry, and political considerations constitute information vital to a president’s success.
Third, a sophisticated review will assess past performance but will emphasize future challenges and probe the president’s awareness and readiness to address them.
When is assessment a waste of time? When the board has enough information already to know the time has come to end the relationship. Otherwise, ongoing, annual and comprehensive assessments will help presidents achieve superior performance.