The six reasons board reviews fail

An effective board review looks forward, drives action and has buy-in from stakeholders. Your evaluation process will fail to achieve its goals if one or more of these six factors are at play.  

1. The process does not drive action

All good review processes result in action. The process must be designed and executed with the intention of making changes where they are necessary. If you are conducting the review just to meet regulatory requirements or tick a box, the process will damage key stakeholders’ trust in the process and waste valuable time and resources.

To avoid this happening, boards may wish to start by focusing their process more narrowly. It’s more important to make meaningful progress than it is to cover every possible area of review. This approach will ensure that resources are focused on achieving outcomes that are unquestionably valuable to everyone involved in the process. 

2. The business is facing major challenges

Board reviews may seem like a luxury when the business is facing significant issues, like financial stress or a broader organisational crisis. This will lead to disengagement with the process and a sense that you’re diverting precious time and resources away from essential issues.

If you’re facing this circumstance, it’s always worth exploring timing (i.e. can your review be rescheduled?). However in some circumstances there’s a regulatory obligation to complete a process that is unavoidable. If this is the case, the right approach is to focus narrowly on issues that may benefit the challenges at hand. Do not run a broad exploratory process, but instead target a single issue, turn the review around quickly and expedite resolution. This approach will help build trust with both board members and management and improve board performance at a time when it is most required. 

3.  The board does not practice collective accountability

While board debate is healthy, the board members must eventually come together to make decisions with collective accountability. You can run the best review process in the world, but it will be ineffective if some board members will not work together. This behaviour can and will cause harm to the board and is unlikely to be resolved without board renewal. 

4. You have a weak chair

The chair plays a critical role in the board review process. They not only direct the process and required outcomes, but are also responsible for actioning recommendations. If the chair is not prepared to have the tough conversations required or does not have the respect of the board, the review may raise a lot of issues but is unlikely to achieve meaningful progress.

 If the chair is not prepared to have the tough conversations required or does not have the respect of the board, the review may raise a lot of issues but is unlikely to achieve meaningful progress.

5. The process is not forward looking

Whilst it is important to build context by looking backwards, the most important element of a board review process is forward looking. The challenges and environment that organisations operate in is constantly changing and that means the oversight and guidance required from the board must be dynamic. The board review process should help identify how the board needs to change so that they can adapt and continue to improve performance over time. 

If the review process focuses on blaming people rather than getting better it will be unproductive and may fail to move the dial on future performance. 

6. Your board review consultant will not deliver hard messages

The board review consultant plays an important role in the process. Their impartiality and experience means they can and should deliver hard messages where required, rather than simply telling the chair what they want to hear. 

While there are many consultants who do this effectively, some may fear repercussions if they do. This often occurs if the consultant is seeking a referral to other boards as a result of the engagement. To avoid this situation, before engaging a consultant ask them pointed questions about their past experience to ensure they approach your review with the professionalism required.

When viewed longitudinally, an effective board review process should clearly improve board performance over time. This happens when the board is committed to action, does not shy away from difficult conversations and conducts reviews that are appropriate for the time. 

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