Daily question: Board reviews – Are surveys or interviews better?

When thinking about evaluating your board, there’s a range of alternatives. Most of these involve some combination of online surveys and interviewing directors and management face-to-face. To help you select the best process for your board, we’ve set out some of the pros and cons of each approach below.

Survey led approach

Pros: 

  • Online surveys allow you to gather standardised data to benchmark your results in a rigorous and scientific way, both internally and against other organisations. 
  • They are also generally more cost-effective as you can include a broader set of respondents (such as the management team), without incurring additional consulting costs. 
  • A well designed survey will ensure you cover the full range of potential board performance issues – ensuring you achieve comprehensive coverage (regardless of the experience of the board).
  • Surveys work well as a starting point for directors with a wide range of experience. A well designed survey can prompt directors and management on areas where they may not have much experience as to best practice. 
  • A survey process can be complete and reported back to the board in as little as 1-2 weeks. This drives rapid response and action.

Cons:

  • Many of the cons of the online approach come if you are using a standalone survey platform such as SurveyMonkey (or paper surveys). Under these approaches the board will need to integrate and visualise results, which can be time consuming and prone to error. It can also be difficult to identify the patterns hidden within data without advanced analytic tools.
  • Some directors may have concerns about confidentiality or security in using an online tool. These can generally be managed using an integrated platform that delivers anonymised results without anyone having access to individual responses.

Recommended usage:

  • An online survey makes sense as the foundation of any ongoing board review cadence. It should be used every year to provide a consistent baseline of issues and improvement.
  • Use a trusted platform that’s specifically designed for Board Evaluation to automate logistics and guarantee confidentiality / security (such as BoardOutlook).
  • Work with a platform that can be used consistently over years, to ensure you get the benefit of trends and comparisons over time. As part of this you should make sure your platform is open access to allow any consultant to access and integrate historical findings in their analysis.

Face-to-face board interviews

Pros: 

  • Where interviews are most valuable is in exploring specific issues in depth. Interviews can help the board to understand complex issues in more detail (especially where there are interpersonal issues). This context can help the chair substantially when difficult decisions are required.
  • Face-to-face interviews generally come with a consultant who can help guide the board through the process. Where the board has less experience, a consultant can be helpful in managing logistics and suggesting resolutions.

Cons:

  • Relying solely on an interview process may produce skewed results. It is human nature for an interviewer to focus in on issues that they are more familiar with or that they perceive as common problems. This becomes particularly problematic in a board review, because evaluating board performance is a complex process that involves not only evaluating the performance of several individuals but also how they operate collectively across a wide spectrum of issues. 
  • A successful process depends on a great consultant and interviewer. There are only a small number of exceptional individuals in each market who consistently deliver exceptional results. 
  • High quality consultants are expensive, and a detailed interview process can cost 5-10x more than a high quality survey approach.
  • An interview process consumes a substantial amount of time, with most interviews running for 90-120 minutes. Scheduling, transcribing and reporting interviews can take 2-3 months from start to finish.

Recommended usage:

  • Face-to-face interviews have an important place in a board review program, but they should be used to supplement (not replace a survey approach). Interviews should be used to understand issues that have been identified through the survey in more depth, and to test potential resolution. 
  • A good online survey can identify where the issues are which can make interviews shorter and more effective. By conducting the survey process upfront, directors also have the opportunity to develop their thinking before the interview process.
  • Typically this means an interview process every 2-3 years to explore specific issues, with surveys conducted in the interim.

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