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Why an Engaged Board is a Powerful Board

January 13, 2016

Posted in: WATSON Views

How would you describe your board? Are they engaged in their work and a valuable asset to your organization? Or do they simply go through the motions, spending time and energy on low value activities? At WATSON, we have been helping improve governance for over a decade and have seen a direct correlation between a competent, engaged board and organizational success. We know that successful boards govern with intention, engaging in dialogue that is challenging, persuasive, and inspiring.

What Does an Engaged Board Look Like?

An engaged board acts in the best interest of the organization in every aspect of its role. This includes directors arriving to meetings prepared and working cohesively as a team, both within the board and with management, towards the organization’s long-term strategic goals. Effective boards keep their directors engaged by selecting the right candidates, encouraging learning and growth, and providing constructive feedback. The most engaged boards don’t simply talk about engagement, they practice it regularly, tackling their underlying issues, evaluating their effectiveness, and adjusting their processes accordingly to become high functioning teams.

WATSON’s Five Tips for Building a Better Board

The levers for building a high-performance board that will have an impact on engagement include:

1. Keep the focus on purpose

Every organization needs, at certain times, to re-evaluate why it exists. A successful board discusses why the organization exists and what role the board plays in the organization’s success. With clear purpose, boards perform to a higher standard and directors remain engaged and produce better results because they are able to see the value in their work.

2. Articulate roles and responsibilities

Role clarity is essential for board success. Invest time to ensure roles and responsibilities of board leaders, individual directors, committees, and officers are clearly defined in your board governance policies. When directors are clear on their roles and the expectations set out for them, they are able to focus on the right issues to guide an organization to success.

3. Deliver high quality information to directors

Management is responsible for providing the board with the right information before entering the boardroom. Ensure the information given to your board is high level enough that board meetings aren’t spent analyzing small details, but rather, discussing strategic matters of the organization. If the pre-meeting material is mired in detail or provides unrelated information, directors are left unprepared to make decisions and board conversations suffer. It is crucial that briefing documents focus on outlining strategic issues, risks to consider and decisions that need to be made. To ensure the right information is provided, schedule a conversation between the board and CEO to discuss the quality and quantity of information that is needed.

4. Seek out and prepare the leaders your board needs

One of the most important processes a board can create is a strong recruitment process to bring in excellent directors and future board leaders. A strong board or committee chair comes with experience navigating difficult and often political situations and is able to create a culture of full participation and engagement characterized by robust dialogue, intentional process, aggressive learning, and clear decisions. Through designing effective agendas and engaging and facilitating difficult conversations, the best board and committee chairs encourage all directors to voice their concerns and opinions in a manner that continually forwards the organization’s goals.

Most importantly, strong leaders need to be given education and support to be prepared for their roles. Equipping your directors with constant learning opportunities allows them to marry their knowledge and background with the processes that are most applicable to your organization’s success.

5. Provide proper support and feedback to directors

The highest functioning boards couple learning opportunities with structured processes for proper feedback.  Whether this is regular board evaluations or in-camera feedback sessions, communicating board strengths and weaknesses allows your board to acknowledge underlying issues that may be hindering progress. It is also important for your board or governance chair to have one-on-one conversations with directors to identify learning needs on an individual basis. Once your board is able to recognize areas in need of improvement, you can begin to identify ways to address them individually or as an entire board.


Building a high-performing board takes effort on behalf of the entire board, directors, and the organization’s management and leadership team. It is an ongoing exercise that needs to find its place at the top of every board’s agenda.  At WATSON boards are our business and we can provide the support your board needs to succeed. Contact us to discuss ways we can help to raise the level of your board’s engagement.


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CEO Evaluation

November 18, 2015

Posted in: WATSON Views

The greatest leaders are also passionate learners. Great leaders are open to feedback and continually incorporate learning into every aspect of their professional lives. However, challenges arise when these individuals transition into CEO roles and no longer have processes in place for high quality feedback and learning opportunities. There is nothing is more frustrating than throwing your shoulder into an endeavour and receiving no feedback on whether you were successful or completely off-course, which begs the question: why is there so often a lack of adequate CEO feedback?

Why do many organizations lack adequate CEO evaluation processes?

  1. Lack of recognition: Although many organizations have processes in place to regularly assess employees, the need for CEO evaluations is often forgotten. It is easy to allow CEOs to operate in their roles without critically thinking about the tools they need to grow, most notably, the CEOs that are performing consistently well. However, even high functioning executives need structured feedback from those around them. There is no limit to how well an executive can perform, and by implementing constant channels for feedback, an organization is able to grow and adapt to the environments in which it operates.
  2. Sense of awkwardness: The idea of providing feedback to your own CEO can be daunting, and without a formal process or direction on how to effectively deliver constructive feedback, many employees and board members shy away from contributing their insights that could ultimately improve their organization’s operations. This is why it is the responsibility of the board to implement the proper processes to allow open conversations and high quality feedback.

How can a board improve the CEO evaluation system?

Ensuring you have the leadership your organization needs is one of the board’s most critical responsibilities. In order to accurately measure effective leadership, boards must have a strong process to monitor, evaluate, and support CEOs. If you are not evaluating your CEO’s performance, you could be in for a surprise, and this is a risk you should not tolerate. If you are not evaluating your CEO well, it’s a huge missed opportunity. By creating a CEO evaluation process you are providing fair and objective data upon which the board can evaluate the performance of the CEO, as well as meaningful developmental feedback for the CEO. Therefore, boards are encouraged to design processes keeping the following points in mind:

  1. Education is key: Ensure employees and CEOs are educated on what good feedback looks like and the importance of being flexible to allow for issues that may arise.
  2. Don’t underestimate how sensitive feedback can be: If the evaluation process is new, the CEO may not necessarily be used to receiving feedback. Having a third party, impartial mediator present will help communicate feedback in a constructive manner. Remember, bad feedback can be damaging, good feedback can be incredibly valuable.
  3. Don’t underestimate the importance of the conversation(s): Implementing these processes is not only about the feedback; it’s about starting the conversation. After reviewing the feedback, it is critical that the board has the opportunity to think about the feedback and what is most important. Similarly, it is critical that the board chair is set up to have a meaningful conversation with the CEO about the feedback and the actions needed to continue to grow in the role.

At WATSON boards are our business. We specialize in creating and implementing systems for CEO evaluation tailored to your business. If your board wants to improve operational process, contact us. To continue exploring the importance of CEO evaluations, read the recent CSAE article contributed by WATSON: “Trends in CEO Evaluation: The Powerful Connection between Leadership and Learning.”


Duties and Responsibilities of Directors of Not-for-Profit Organizations, Fourth Edition by WATSON Advisors Inc.

October 26, 2015

Posted in: WATSON Views

Duties and Responsibilities of Directors of Not-for-Profit Organizations  is recognized as essential reading for individuals who sit on not-for-profit boards in Canada.   Published by the Canadian Society of Association Executives and edited by Natasha Himer of WATSON Advisors Inc. it is the most popular book in the CSAE’s library of board resources for NPO directors and management.

Designed as a primer for board directors this book is an invaluable resource for organizations in board orientation sessions.   As a handbook and reference guide, it addresses the most frequent and common issues related to liabilities of the directors of not-for-profit corporations.  A must-read for directors looking for clear, implementable practice points to help them meet their obligations, reduce liability risk and govern more effectively. In this fourth edition, WATSON includes updates related to recent legislative changes of federal and Ontario legislation governing not-for-profit corporations.

Available through the CSAE website


Designing a CEO Evaluation Process

September 3, 2015

Posted in: WATSON Views

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”

Learn about the powerful connection between leadership and learning and use our 5 key guidelines to design a CEO evaluation process that will help your organization to grow in this WATSON article recently published in the CSAE’s Association Magazine.

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