Self-assessment at Board level is integral to Good Governance practice. Not only does it engender a shared understanding amongst board members of how the Board operates, but also creates the opportunity for positive change.
A self-assessment requires that the Board looks critically at its own performance – that it acknowledges its strengths, but addresses any weaknesses or skills deficits that may need to be worked on. For example, many not-for-profit Boards are often lacking important ‘corporate’ skills such as HR, Finance, PR/Marketing etc. and a Board self-assessment will help to identify exactly which areas need to be strengthened.
Be clear on the needs of the organisation
In order for a board to have the right skills, it must be aware of the current and future needs of the organisation. A board cannot know what skills it is in need of if it is unclear about where the charity is headed. For example, if developing a new website is a part of the organisation’s strategic plan, it will be beneficial to recruit a board member with IT expertise who has contacts in the industry.
Perform a skills audit
Performing a skills audit is an effective way of collecting information about the skills you have on the board, and the skills you are lacking. A skills audit is also an educational exercise for trustees themselves as it allows them to identify gaps in their own knowledge and therefore avenues for further training or education.
On a cautionary note, a poorly conducted audit can have negative consequences for the morale of the board. A board member who is presented with a list of competencies they do not have may become resentful. It is important therefore that you spend time devising an appropriate method.
Skills audits take a variety of formats. Have a look here at some useful templates.
Balance ‘hard-skills and ‘soft-skills’
Boards rightfully hold technical skills such as financial acumen, legal expertise or marketing experience in high regard when assessing the level of competence on the board. These skills are integral to the efficiency of a not-for-profit board. Equally important however is the presence of ‘soft–skills’ on your board. These can include skills in negotiation, team-work, problem-solving and so on. An efficient board is one that has a balance of both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ skills.
All not-for-profit organisations should strive for diversity on their boards, as a board which enjoys a broader range of voices, experiences and backgrounds will be better equipped to tackle issues and problems more holistically. Where diversity is lacking, a board then risks slipping into ‘group-think’- a condition which will hinder the organisation from moving forward.
Fundamentally, Board self-assessments create an ethos of professionalism and accountability on the Board and this has a knock on effect for the performance of the organisation as a whole.