MAUI — Whether your board is “rubber stamp” or “watch dog” what you want it to be is a “challenger,” according to Mary Beth Spuck, CEO of The Paragon Group.
The challenger board, as defined by the Filene Research Institute research she cited, is one that is able to be the necessary monitor of credit union activities while remaining sensitive to changing member needs. “While it is difficult to bring that together, it is possible and one of the ways to do that is the board assessment,” Spuck said. However, a show of hands demonstrated that few in the room of nearly 100 attendees performed volunteer assessments.
Volunteer assessments are really not so much about past performance, Spuck explained, as they are future oriented. The key questions to answer are: Where are we, and how do we improve from there. There are a variety of ways to approach assessments, too. The entire board can be assessed, or it can look at individuals. There’s a peer feedback model, board chair assessment or a 360-degree overview where management assesses the board. This last version, she quipped, is also “where we see the most heartburn.”
One volunteer said her credit union discussed board assessments every year but they really didn’t know where to start. Another said, “The last one was about five years ago and it about tore our board apart. The last question was: Would your vote to re-elect this board member?’” Still another volunteer whose board performed assessments said, “I think the greatest hold up was the fear of what we would find.” Once they moved beyond that, the process was fine.
Expectations need to be set from the start, Spuck advised. First introduce the idea to the board, and then move onto the decision whether to perform the review. Next determine who would be reviewed. She added that before the process even begins, determine how the results will be shared. After the assessment is done, actions steps need to be stated and implemented based on the results.
The various areas that could be covered in a board assessment include: strategic planning, relationship with the CEO, understanding and monitoring of products and services, financial management, risk management, board development, effectiveness and governance, and public relations and advocacy.