The high performing board – a checklist for a “pulse check”

Directors want to be associated with a high performing board, so a key question for every director is: “What are the things that outstanding boards do more frequently, and more effectively than their poorer performing counterparts?”

Whilst there are several differentiating factors, perhaps a key one is the way in which the board focuses on continuous improvement. According to research undertaken by the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI) (see HERE),

“….good boards tend to go through a process of continuous self assessment – discussions that have been had throughout the year ought to be fed into the formal evaluation process”.

So how should a board gather regular, ongoing feedback about its performance? And what is the best way to feed this into an annual board evaluation?

One approach involves undertaking a board ‘pulse check’…. a quick review of what went well and what could have been done better at the end of each meeting. Many boards and committees take 5 or so minutes at the end of the meeting to check for common understanding of meeting outcomes, and to review their performance. But this practice frequently suffers from several limitations, including:

  • Checking for common understanding can result in a rehash/repeat of information discussed at the meeting, and not add much value
  • May not hear from every director (more vocal directors may dominate)
  • Directors may not feel comfortable sharing negative feedback
  • Feedback may not be formally captured or recorded
  • Feedback is rarely fed into the formal board evaluation process

So what is the best way to undertake a board pulse check that contributes to continuous improvement of board functioning?

The following checklist includes the key elements of an effective board pulse check:

Elements of an Effective Board Pulse Check

1.Is a quick and simple exercise

2.No more than 10 questions

3. Questions focus only on things that need improvement

(doesn’t waste time collecting data on things we consistently do well)

4. Questions are simply worded (e.g. “The meeting was efficiently chaired”)

5. Utilises a standard set of questions every meeting to track improvement

6. Incorporates both closed and open-ended questions

(including “what went well?”, and “what could we do better?”)

7. Covers multiple aspects of the board meeting, including;

·         Preparation

·         Agenda setting

·         Board papers

·         Chairing

·         Dynamics and behaviour

·         Outcomes

8. Confidentially canvasses the views of every director

9 Is systematically collected each board meeting

10. Is fed into annual board evaluation process

11. Checks understanding of key resolution, action points etc.

12. Utilises smart technology to achieve the above

A Board Pulse Check App on a smart phone or tablet is a useful tool to ensure that every director can quickly and easily provide confidential, anonymous feedback which is systematically collected each meeting. Importantly, this feedback can then be automatically fed into, and form the basis for, the annual board evaluation process.

The questions on the App can be tailored to the key areas where the board would like to see improvement. For example, if your board has a tendency to allow too much discussion on operational matters, your pulse check could include an item such as “The Chair ensures that discussion does not stray into operational detail”.

As with any performance improvement process, the key to success is ensuring that performance evaluation is not a ‘once-a-year’ event, but is part of an ongoing process of monitoring and feedback. The use of the board pulse check ensures that directors are continuously reflecting on how they can improve their contribution, as well as allows the chair to tap into ‘real-time’ feedback on individual and board performance.

© Guerdon Associates 2024
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