Harnessing the Power of the Board Assessments
Quick Context Setting.................................................................................... 3
Shifting from Reactive to Strategic................................................................... 3
Action Steps to Get the Data............................................................................ 4
Action Steps to Use the Data............................................................................ 8
Most boards think they are pretty good, but they have no idea compared to what. The BoardOnTrack Membership is grounded in a Capability Maturity Model that defines the natural evolution of a charter school. Ideally your governance will progress from being reactive to being strategic. This evolution is described below:
The BoardOnTrack Assessments clarify, in a data-driven way, your board’s strengths and areas to improve and provide a numerical ranking on the Capability Maturity Model.
The first 10 assessments measure how effective you are as a team. Specifically they measure how effective you are in these key areas:
- Board Meetings
- Board Structure
- Board Composition
- Board Recruitment
- Board Goals & Accountability
- Academic Oversight
- CEO Support & Evaluation
- BoardSavvy CEO
And then, tucked away at the bottom of the assessments you will notice one stand-alone assessment. This is the Personal Appraisal. Instead of measuring how you are doing as a team, this assessment is designed for individual trustees to reflect on their own personal performance.
Note: how to use the Personal Appraisal is described in a separate companion guide.
- Commit to a Robust Annual Self-Assessment Process
Best practice recommends that boards complete an annual self-assessment. The BoardOnTrack Assessments are designed to be a straighfrorward, easy to use, annual self-assessment that provides an industry specific, 3rd party analysis of your board’s strengths and areas to improve.
Most boards find it useful to take these assessments once a year, typically in the late spring/early summer. It is a great tool to help the team reflect on their progress during the past year and to set board development goals for the new school year. In addition, if you have a lot of turn over at some other point in the year and/or add a handful on new trustees, you might want to retake the assessments to fully gauge the board’s knowledge.
- Appoint an Assessment Coordinator
Appoint at least one person to be the “assessment coordinator”. This role has certain permissions in BoardOnTrack that allow them to administer the assessments. This could be a trustee or a staff member. Often this is the chair of the governance committee if it is a trustee or the chair of the board. The staffer is typically whoever supports the board’s operations on a regular basis. Whoever you appoint will basically be in charge of the air traffic control of launching the assessments, tracking participation, hounding to get folks to complete on time if need be, and closing the assessment when it is complete.
- Agree to a Timeline
We recommend discussing this as a group and agreeing to a completion date. We have found that the shorter the turnaround time the better. Typically a week to ten days is sufficient.
- Strive to Get 100% Completion
The more the full board takes the assessments the more accurate the data will be. Strive for a 100% completion rate. The completion rate on the assessments is often an important indicator of your board culture.
What if we have brand new trustees, should they take the assessments?
Yes, everyone who is on the board should take the assessments. New trustees may select “no” or “don’t know” for many of the items, but this will provide them with a valuable baseline from which to build their own personal professional development plan to catch up to speed with the rest of the trustees. In addition, their participation will provide the governance committee with valuable data that can inform new trustee orientation and additional board development/board education activities.
What if we are a start-up, pre-doors open board?
Yes, you should all take the assessments. This will provide you with valuable baseline data, will show you where you need education and should help you understand what excellence looks like so that you can build a board development plan to get there. Also, you will find taking the assessments will help you answer the governance sections of the charter application.
What about just having a subset take the assessments, like the officers or committee chairs?
Governance is a team sport, and the entire team needs the chance to understand the collective team’s strengths and areas to improve. So, we recommend that your full team take the assessments.
- Make Sure Your CEO Completes Them Too
Much of great governance hinges on a strong Board-CEO partnership. It is vital that your CEO takes all of the assessments so that you can see how aligned you are with your CEO. The CEOs scores are not anonymous and their rating of the board’s performance will be visible in its own column.
- Don’t Be Confused By the BoardSavvy CEO Assessment
This assessment is asking the Board and the CEO to reflect on how “BoardSavvy” your CEO is. An exceptional board relies on leadership from their CEO and this assessment should be taken by both parties.
Viewing the Results
Once you click on assessments you will see three areas across the top: Assessments, Reports and Recommendations. Your personal results are under the Assessments section. Here you can see your personal score on a scale of 1 to 5, you will also be able to see when you took the assessment and see your individual answers to each question.
The full board results as well as your CEO’s input will be found by clicking on the reports section.
To protect anonymity at least three trustees need to take the assessments before you can view the team results.
Key Components of the Report
At the top of the report you will be able to see who participated in the assessment. Ideally your full board and CEO were invited to participate.
Pay attention to the completion rate. As mentioned above, you should be striving to achieve 100% completion.
Next you will see an overall score for your board. This is a number on the 1-5 Capability Maturity Model and is the average from all of the 10 assessments. This overall score shows your overall governance capabilities.
Summary of Scores
Next you will see a summary of the overall rating for each of the assessments. You will see how the board rated themselves compared to how the CEO rated the board.
Scrolling down you will find a slightly more detailed and interactive view of the ten assessments.
It’s important to note that towards the top of the assessments section there is a gray bar labeled “Toggle Visibility”. This allows you to take a more granular look at some or all of the assessments. You can see the answer keys or hide them, see how the CEO rated the board, see the spread of individual trustee responses and see where you fall, etc.
Next you will see the details for each of the assessments. You can apply the “toggle visibility” feature here as well to see a higher level or more granular view.
And lastly you will see the answer keys. This is an articulation of the high bar or a level 5. If you answered yes to every question this is what you would have been affirming. The answer keys show you what excellence looks like.
General Tips for Reviewing the Data
Here are a few general tips for reviewing the data:
We recommend first thinking about participation. Did 100% of the trustees and the CEO complete 100% of the assessments? Why or why not? What does this tell you about how engaged the team is? What does this tell you about your board culture? What do you want to do about it?
Successful boards have a strong partnership between the board and the CEO. Skim the results quickly to identify how aligned the board and the CEO are on strengths and areas that need improvement. Are there places where the Board and CEO are not in sync? Where are you aligned? Flag key areas of misalignment and make sure you find time to discuss as a full group.
Areas to Improve
Next skim again for the areas where the majority of respondents gave low marks (1s and 2s) prioritize these for discussion and action steps.
Look for areas where you have mostly 4s and 5s. Give yourselves a pat on the back.
The BoardOnTrack mantra is Knowledge + Action = Results. So, generating the data is great,
but is only as good as the actions you take with that data. Our recommended action steps include
- Governance Committee Review
Ideally your board has a governance committee. This is the committee that is tasked with finding and recruiting new trustees, as well as organizing board education, new trustee orientation, and tending to the general health and functioning of the board. The governance committee should meet and review the assessment results in detail. The tips above should be a useful starting point for the committee’s analysis.
- Get CEO and Board Chair Input
Typically the CEO and Board Chair play an active role on the governance committee. If this is the case with your board their input will have been captured in Step #1. If this is not the case, you should ask them to review the data and capture their input
- Determine Time and Action Steps for Full Board Review
The assessments provide a great deal of data. How your board choses to use this will depend on the stage of your board, your capacity for board development activities and how high functioning your board is.
Many boards find it useful to take the assessments as part of the preparation for an annual board retreat. A retreat is a great setting to review the results in detail and to agree on a few prioritized items that you would like to improve upon in the coming year.
- Committee Deep Dive to Inform Board-CEO Partnership, Board Education and Goal Setting
We recommend that committees take a much deeper look at the assessments that align with their focus. The first five assessments: Board Meetings, Board Structure, Board Composition, Board Recruitment and Board Goals and Accountability correlate with the work of the governance committee. Finance, Development and Academic Excellence align with committees that typically share these names. And, the last two assessments CEO Support and Evaluation and BoardSavvy CEO relate to the work of the CEO Support and Evaluation Committee.
Committees have three important angles to look at the results.
Using the toggle visibility view, the committee should look closely at where they are aligned or not aligned with their CEO. Make sure to carve off time to walk through the results with the CEO. Have an honest conversation about why there may be discrepancies and create an action plan to get on the same page.
Using the toggle visibility function the committees can look at the spread of trustees answers. Often the committee members are surprised to find out that the majority of trustees answered “no” or “don’t know” to a particular question. For example, you might have a 9 person board, and on the question about Financial Policies and Procedures Manual, 3 trustees answered Level 5 and the rest answered Level 1. Coincidently there are 3 trustees on the Finance Committee, they all gave a Level 5 response. In this case their analysis reveals there needs to be some significant board education about the fact that this manual exists etc.
Annually your board should set strategic goals that articulate how the board will add value to the institution in the year ahead. The assessment results can help the committee identify areas where they want to expand or improve their work, and ultimately should be translated into concrete committee goals. In addition, the assessment results can help ensure that the committees are not just doing the basics but are doing more high-level strategic work each year.
- Using the Recommendations
The final section of the assessments section of BoardOnTrack is the recommendations. This section identifies areas where you need to improve and serves up recommended resources and relevant information to help you quickly up your governance game.
As a Team
As a team, either as a full board or in committees you should look at the recommendations and chart a path forward. There are lots of time saving tips, tools and templates for you to use.
Personal Professional Development
You can also use this section to create a personal professional development plan. Maybe you want to set a personal goal of once a week grabbing a cup of coffee and spending 20 minutes focusing on one area where you want to gain additional knowledge. A simple plan like this could help you significantly improve your governance knowledge over the course of a year.
 A job description for this committee can be found online in the resources section of your BoardOnTrack membership.