Peer evaluations can be a truly miserable experience. There’s just no other way to put it. The shroud of anonymity can hide thoughtless, even derogatory reviews. I’ve seen far too much of that in my corporate life.
And more often than not, feedback can be nonspecific and reflect on a person’s popularity more than on their effectiveness.
Despite these real shortcomings, the benefits of peer evaluations in the boardroom can be worth it.
With a few caveats.
You need the right tools, and you need the right reasons to use them.
Here’s why they can build better boards.
DRIVE BOARD EXCELLENCE
Getting where you want to get without knowing where everyone thinks you’re standing is tough. Evaluation feedback is a wealth of candid information on the perspectives that shape performance at the individual and team levels. Assuming everyone is motivated by improving the organization’s overall performance, an honest process will forge a stronger team. Key factors that drive board excellence include:
Board members get an opportunity to express opinions and ideas in open-ended questions—who knows what innovation will result?
Directors feel freer to question the status quo and established norms—think “no more groupthink.”
All members feel equal in a well-managed peer evaluation process—clearly inclusive. Great.
The process promotes reflection from individual members about their roles and contribution—first stone anyone?
A peer evaluation keeps expectations and priorities clear between board members. It also:
Promotes alignment with the overall expectations of shareholders and stakeholders.
Lets board members address the individual needs of different stakeholders without being confrontational.
HIGHLIGHT INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCE
A peer evaluation ensures that the directors recruited to boards have a perspective that stays close to those set out by the owners. It can also:
Tell you what competencies are needed to complement existing board members when recruiting a new director.
Help correct misunderstandings between directors and owners before they damage total board performance.
PROVIDE STRUCTURE TO DIRECTOR FEEDBACK
Peer evaluations provide structured processes for director feedback in an atmosphere that supports growth and improved performance for the individual. Also:
Directors are free to share detailed and sensitive information.
And get to evaluate their own performance and identify areas of potential improvement without the fear of criticism from colleagues.
AND FINALLY, OBVIOUSLY, MEASURING DIRECTOR PERFORMANCE
Peer evaluation recognises top performers and shows how colleagues value their contribution. That recognition could even act as a catalyst for improved performance for the rest of the board. And:
Age and tenure become less critical as criteria for selecting directors to fill vacant positions.
If something changes and someone becomes less suitable, you’ll find out in time.
Dissatisfaction over the conduct of a peer is identified early, before the problem escalates.
All that is to say that peer evaluations hold many advantages for boards in all sorts of different organizations and let directors members channel their contribution to team excellence.
The fundamental factor for success here is to have an open discussion about the benefits of a peer evaluation exercise in the board before getting started.
The expectations of the benefits should be clear to everyone involved. And, of course, having an intuitive and powerful software tool to manage the process makes things smoother.
11 January 2024
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