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So Your Board Is Rated in the Bottom Quartile: Should You Be Worried?


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At Board Surveys, we have prepared benchmarked reports and scorecards for boards of organisations of all shapes and sizes. After analysing the responses and providing expert advice, we often receive one common question from Chairs and boards that find themselves benchmarked in the bottom quartile; should we be worried, and why or why not?

Their benchmarked Board Effectiveness Report covers their effectiveness and performance leading up to the date of the survey. It can be quite a shock to see lots of red in your report as this means your board is in the bottom quartile. But surely it’s better to know very clearly where your board is at and to be empowered to fix it. You should be more worried if your board is ineffective and you didn’t really know why or what to do about it.

So let’s understand a little more about what being in the bottom quartile means and what should be done.

Ensure buy-in to the change desired

When presented with the fact that their board is in the bottom quartile overall when compared to similar companies most want to take the appropriate steps to improve. However, our experience shows that there are always some that will argue that the survey was done at the wrong time, the benchmarking is not appropriate or try to find some other excuses not to accept the results.

This denial that there is a problem to solve often dissipates after some time has passed so don’t despair. Instead, continue to build buy-in for the fact that there is a problem to be dealt with, noting the significant benefits to the board and the organisation if the problem is dealt with.

Change can be hard for many people but good boards aren’t simply made up of individuals doing their own thing. Good boards get aligned around the board and the organisation’s main challenges and that makes it much easier to garner the energy and effort of the whole board to achieve the change desired.

We recommend that the board take whatever time is needed to work its way through the results. It is important that every board member is on board (pun intended) with what the benchmarked report is saying and the actions proposed to achieve the change desired.

If every board member is pointing in the right direction, so as to achieve the agreed improvements then your board will receive a bump in its benchmarking by the time the next survey rolls around.

Develop and act on a roadmap to success

Most Chairs and boards tell us that the benchmarked report makes it very quick and easy to identify the “hot spots” and what is going well and what is not. However, many also appreciate the assistance of an external expert to discuss and analyse their results to recommend well designed actions to achieve the improvements desired.

They say our experience in having seen at least 100 other reports, also ranked in the bottom quartile, enables our board advisory experts to add big value to their ability to interpret the results and to recommend clear steps and stepping stones to achieve the success desired.

Having received expert help in designing a roadmap to success it is important that the Chair and one or more directors take the responsibility of ensuring the initiatives set out in the roadmap are implemented – otherwise completing the benchmarked survey and getting the expert advice will be wasted.

Better board performance means better organisational performance

We’ve seen it many times; an ineffective board will not be able to inspire or drive high performance in the organisation they lead. Most directors already know this, meaning it is incumbent on all boards to understand the current state of their board.


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