Can you run an effective board review without the Chair taking ownership?

The simple answer to this question is no. An effective board review requires the participation and ownership of the chair.

At a macro level, the role of the chair is to ensure the board is operating effectively. Conducting a board review is the best way to achieve this and the chair plays a key role in ensuring that the process delivers the best possible outcome. 

To ensure a good outcome, at the outset the chair must articulate to the rest of the organisation why the board review process is valuable and be prepared to enforce its importance and hold people to account. This accountability rests with the chair and cannot be delegated to an external party. While an external consultant can facilitate the process, they alone cannot ensure the process is taken seriously by board and management. 

Active involvement by a chair in the review process not only allows them to ensure the process delivers value, it also signals to directors and management the importance of the process. A chair can demonstrate that they take personal ownership for the review by being open to meaningful feedback with respect to their role and being willing to make changes as a result. Often, a review may highlight issues, either with the chair or other directors, that are contrary to their perception of themselves. Being able to accept the feedback and being willing to take action on it is a strong indicator of leadership and accountability. 

Failing to engage in a review of the board also says a lot about a chair and their level of accountability. It can indicate that the chair is fearful of the results or simply does not care whether the board is performing effectively. 

It is not enough to just conduct a review, the chair must ensure that actions are agreed and implemented. If a board review is done simply to check a box the process will inevitably fail. Directors and management are unlikely to give the process due consideration making it more difficult to realise any improvement in performance. 

By taking personal ownership of the board review process, the chair ensures that the process achieves its objectives and actually improves the performance of the board.

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