How to Become a High-Performance Board in 6 Simple Steps


Red head female thinking on high performance board - 6 steps

Every board strives for high performance. After all, your organisation’s performance, sustainability, and reputation depend on it! It is also fair to say that a board’s performance and effectiveness impact the motivation, engagement, culture, and performance of the CEO, executive team, and organisation.

Boards set an organisation’s tone from the top; great boards make great organisations, and poor-performing or dysfunctional boards can jeopardise performance. However, a high-performing board doesn’t just happen. It takes hard work and deliberate intent to ensure and sustain a leadership commitment to exceptional performance.

Board Surveys has set out six simple steps to help you create a high-performance board. As we have measured and helped improve the performance of over 350 boards, we have some important information for you to consider and to help you join the list!

Continue reading to learn the six steps and apply them to your processes to improve board performance and the performance of your organisation.

Step 1: Measure and understand your current performance and effectiveness

An annual review of the performance and effectiveness of your board and individual directors is strongly recommended and is becoming commonplace, as is an independent externally facilitated review every three years as well. If you don’t measure, how do you know what to improve?

With this being said, it’s important to understand that not all measurements are created equal. A validated and benchmarked board performance survey like the one offered by Board Surveys measures the factors that are most important for a board to become high performing.

Further benefits of a quality independent, externally facilitated review include:

  • Vital data provided by a validated benchmarked Board Effectiveness Survey that is completed by directors and by executives. This can be carried out every year whether additional interviews and other procedures are carried out. Comparative figures help show where improvements have been achieved and where further work is required
  • Further data from a Director Effectiveness Survey that enables directors to rate themselves and their colleagues
  • Interviews with each director and primary executives can be carried out by an independent governance expert
  • Results explaining the overall strengths and areas for improvement via a concise report (three to five main issues and the governance expert’s recommendations for improvement also included)
  • A debrief of the results by a governance expert

Step 2: Commitment to an agreed action plan

Identifying areas for improvement is a wasted activity if the board does not agree to jointly own the problem and commit to turning the recommendations into a practical action plan.

The independent governance expert can assist in creating iterative changes and improvements that, when backed by a deliberate and sustained leadership commitment, pave the way for real improvement. Regular check-ins are recommended to measure the impact of the agreed actions with necessary adjustments made along the way.

Step 3: A change process driven by the Chair

If your review process includes the collection of a list of strengths of and suggestions for the Chair whether by way of a Director Effectiveness Survey or another process we recommend the Chair summarizes in their own words, what others say are their strengths and the suggestions for improvement others have for them.

If the Chair is feeling brave and would like to take this one step further, they can share the full list or report with directors, asking for help to capitalise on their strengths while working on the suggested areas of improvement. This makes the board accountable for helping the Chair with their improvement plan.

By demonstrating boldness, transparency, and vulnerability, the Chair sets the tone for other directors, executives, and the CEO about the importance of continuous improvement, feedback, and self-awareness.

Step 4: Consider both individual director and board improvement

A board achieving high performance requires individual directors to demonstrate their commitment to the improvement of their own performance as well. This is why a review of the performance of individual directors is often included in the board review process.

Data from the Director Effectiveness Survey and related Reports helps identify areas of strength and improvement for each director. This also helps create a great starting point for the Chair to help each individual director create their own development plan. A transparent and vulnerable Chair (in regards to areas for improvement) emboldens other directors to follow suit.

Step 5: Measure the impact of the agreed actions and adapt

Regular check-ins are vital for the success of improvement initiatives. A review of any progress made in the key areas identified for improvement will identify where progress has been achieved or any areas where additional effort may still be required.

This investment of a little extra time allows the board to make further iterative improvements at regular meetings. This is how your organisation can embed continuous improvement, both collectively and individually, into your culture and DNA.

Step 6: Continue the journey of improvement

Board improvement is not a destination; it’s a continuous journey. If you think you have mastered it, you have, in fact, only mastered complacency and hubris. This is a surefire way to undo all of the hard work everyone has been putting in.

High performance requires a sustained and disciplined commitment to identifiable improvements. This step-change may only result in a 1% improvement, but all of these small shifts equate to a significant difference as you progress. With a sustained and disciplined commitment to board improvement, you can maintain high performance for extended periods, at which point it just becomes the way in which your organisation operates.


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