This is how evaluation practices lead to better governance

21 May 2022, 6:00

Assessment of the board improves the performance and engagement of its members, writes Fiona Chalk

I had the pleasure recently of listening to Ralph Schubert talking about creating a high-performing culture in the boardroom. Ralph previously worked in winning Formula One teams and now applies his insights and learning in boardrooms across Europe. 

Like many working in the governance space, his insights show that a fundamental part of the success of boards (and Formula One teams) comes down to how well they review and reflect on their performance, and revise accordingly.

Such a continual feedback loop makes the difference between an OK board (or team) and one that is high performing.

Such a system is a sign of mature governance and sits alongside the need for the board to have a clear vision, clearly defined roles and responsibilities, a passionate commitment to purpose and an attitude of emotional unity.

Whenever a group of persons come together, be that a choir, orchestra, a sports team etc, they regularly review, reflect on and improve how they are working together. Boards are no different.

Some would argue that the board is not a team. But if we use The Wisdom of Teams definition, “a small group of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals and approach, for which they hold themselves mutually accountable, then we can say the board, working with management, is such a team.

Codes of governance have in common the requirement for such reviews. Meanwhile the ESFA’s accounts direction states that each college’s annual statement of governance and internal control must include a section on the corporation’s performance, including an assessment of its own effectiveness.

Regulators and the public need to be confident that further education institutions are delivering high-quality provision and value for money.

The primary responsibility for ensuring that the organisation has an effective system of internal control and delivers on its functions; other statutory responsibilities; and the priorities, commitments, objectives and targets it sets; alongside other requirements as communicated to it by its funders, rests with the organisation’s board.

The board is the most senior group in the organisation and provides important oversight of how public money is spent.

It is widely acknowledged that good and effective governance leads to good management, good performance, good stewardship of public money, good stakeholder engagement and, ultimately, good outcomes.

Good governance is not judged by “nothing going wrong”. Even in the best boards and organisations, bad things happen. Board effectiveness is demonstrated by the appropriateness of the response when difficulties arise.

Board self-assessments take place annually and are usually led by the chair, or chair of a governance committee, supported by the governance professional. Typical areas for such a self-assessment to cover include:

  • Board composition and commitment
  • Board induction, development and succession
  • Board oversight of performance (student, environmental and financial)
  • Board engagement and involvement
  • Board compliance
  • Boardroom dynamics
  • Board processes
  • Board impact

With the introduction of intent, implementation and impact by Ofsted in the latest inspection framework, there is a growing focus too on the impact of the board within the organisation.

There is a growing focus too on the impact of the board on the organisation

We know that boards are resource heavy and board members are volunteers.

Therefore, identifying through evaluation where boards have impact is not only necessary to justify the resource, but also to support continuing engagement by those volunteering their own time, knowledge and expertise. 

Areas to identify impact include:

  • The contribution that the board is making to the management team’s performance (particularly, effective decision-making).
  • The board’s impact, through its engagement, on stakeholders, including other organisations, students, staff and the communities in which it operates.
  • The board’s role in bringing about a change of culture within the organisation.
  • How the board has positively shaped the vision and strategy of the organisation.

The key focus of the review should be on the support and development of the governing body and will include a clear action plan to take forward recommendations coming out of the review, with the review feeding into the overall college self-assessment report.

That’s how to create a high-performing culture in your team – Formula One or otherwise.

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