Board assessment is an essential element of good governance, and it is a recommended best practice for public and independent institutions and for related foundations. By establishing a thorough assessment process and a clear plan to address the findings, a board holds itself accountable, demonstrates its commitment to serve the institution, and promotes stronger board performance.
There is a growing expectation that boards of all types will review their performance as a basic governance responsibility.
For example, the boards of publicly traded corporations are now required by NASDAQ regulations to engage in self-assessment. Likewise, most higher education accrediting bodies include board assessment among their self-study criteria. Failure to meet this expectation may jeopardize a college or university’s accreditation status and may allow governance problems to persist or worsen.
Benefits of Board Assessment
While the most obvious purpose of board assessment is to determine how well a board is functioning, there are several other compelling benefits. Board assessment can
- help members understand their individual and collective responsibilities and boundaries;
- improve relationships among members and with the chief executive;
- clarify mutual expectations;
- enhance member engagement and make more effective use of volunteers’ time;
- help individual board members steer clear of conflicts of interest and other problems;
- help reveal the strengths and challenges of the board’s current culture, group dynamics, and board member behavior;
- encourage the board to reach consensus about its goals and focus on strategic priorities;
- determine whether board organization, structure, and agendas are aligned with strategic priorities;
- identify areas of concern, barriers to success, and new ways to strengthen board effectiveness;
- avoid governance failures and other risks to effective leadership;
- identify needed skills, knowledge, and abilities that can be addressed through future board elections and appointments;
- reveal board policies that are missing or need to be updated; and
- identify issues and topics for continuing board education.
Read more about what to evaluate, when to conduct an assessment, and how to manage the process, in Assessing Board Performance: A Practical Guide for College, University, System, and Foundation Boards.