What to ask when engaging a board review consultant?

As with any profession, there are good board review consultants and those that are less effective. Engaging someone who has both depth and breadth of experience is critical because board reviews are not an asymmetrical process where there is only upside. A good review can help you make a real step change in how your board operates while an ineffective review process can substantially damage the operation of the board. 

If you choose the wrong consultant, the feedback you receive may lack depth of understanding about how a board can and should operate. They may also fail to deliver hard truths in fear that you won’t reuse or refer them to other boards. In this situation, your resources would be better spent on an off the shelf software solution that can provide you with an objective review without fear or favour. 

On the other hand, a good board review consultant is honest and has the capability to deliver tough feedback to the chair. They provide you with meaningful feedback and insights that enable you to identify opportunities that make a real difference to how your board operates. This takes a substantial amount of experience and expertise. Asking the following five questions can help you to choose one that is effective: 

1. What boards have you worked with (over multiple years)? 

Both the quality and quantity of boards that a consultant has worked with can help you assess their credentials. A good board review consultant will have worked with reputable boards and chairs, both recently and over time. If they’ve worked with some boards more than once, that’s a good indicator that they’ve added value to those organisations and seen the development of the board over time. 

The more boards a consultant has had exposure to, the more likely it is that they understand a wide range of scenarios and issues and can provide suggestions of a path to resolution. 

2. What issues do you commonly see similar boards struggle with?

A consultant that has had exposure to a range of boards will be able to speak with insight into the issues that similar organisations face. These issues should reflect both the breadth and depth of their experience.

A consultant who can cite just a handful of high level issues is likely to lack the experience and understanding to run a robust review process. 

3. What is the process following your recommendations?

A good board review doesn’t end when the recommendations are made, in fact that’s just the beginning. A consultant should not only demonstrate that they understand the likely impact of their recommendations, but have practical experience in working issues through to resolution over the course of months or years. 

4. How will you involve management in the review process?

Management plays an important role in the board review process, but there’s a fine line between involving them enough and distracting them from their core job of running the business. A good board review consultant understands how to productively involve management in the process without pulling them away from their day job.

5. How will you help us take ownership of the board review process?

While a board review can help inform and improve performance, ownership of the process can never be seen as something that is exogenous to the way the board operates. An effective consultant understands that while they can provide support and advice, the board (and chair) must own their performance and development.  

By asking these questions when deciding who to engage to conduct your board review, a consultant can demonstrate that they both understand the review process and have the necessary experience to conduct a robust review.

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