News and Views
April 1, 2019
Posted in: WATSON Views
Part 3 of WATSON’s 3-part Year of the Peer series
There is an old saying that feedback is a gift. Yet, for many directors, it is a gift we would prefer not to receive. It is also a gift many of us are unprepared to give. Boardrooms historically do not have a culture rich in evaluation and self-reflection. So, it should come as no surprise when directors are asked to share feedback on each other’s contributions to the board and a collective shudder ripples around the room.
Before asking directors to weigh in on peer performance, boards should ensure directors are comfortable with the evaluation process. It begins with understanding your board’s purpose in pursuing an evaluation, building a state of readiness and customizing the process. Without an upfront investment to ready (and steady) directors, there is a risk of the process causing more harm than good, particularly when it comes to relationships and board dynamics. Read up on how to ready the board and customize your evaluation.
Hey WATSON, I think there is a bigger problem in the boardroom that the survey doesn’t really address. What should I do?
If your feedback is about big issues that you feel are not properly addressed through a survey, speak with your Chair about other ways to address and resolve the issue. The director evaluation process is not your only avenue to deliver feedback to colleagues and is not an ideal avenue for more serious issues. If you feel the issue is with the Chair, talk to the Vice Chair or Governance Committee Chair about how best to proceed.
Have a governance question?
How to give the Gift of Feedback
To ensure your feedback is valuable and valued, employ these tried and true techniques:
Focus on Facts – High-quality feedback is low in judgment. Instead of stating your opinion about the person, identify the facts and your observations.
Example: “Mary is unengaged” vs. “Mary spends a lot of meeting time on her phone. During our last meeting, she asked several questions that were already addressed in the risk register update presentation.”
Be Specific – The more specific you can make the feedback, the more the receiver will be able to recollect situations or examples you may be describing and think about how to address them differently next time.
Example: “Bob talks too much” vs. “Bob can dominate a conversation at times. Last month during the conversation about our new office space, he didn’t let other directors ask their questions and I know this caused frustration.”
Emphasize Strengths – Highlight contributions so that directors understand where they are particularly effective and what they should keep doing.
Example: “Jane comes to the meeting with a list of thought-provoking questions that engages the entire board at the right strategic level.”
Take Personality Out – When raising shortcomings, try to provide specific examples and keep comments constructive. Try not to label behaviour with absolutes. Avoid personality-related comments that usually only serve to create bad feelings.
Example: “Tony is like a lemming. He never takes a stand. He votes with the majority every time. Might as well not show up” vs. “At the last meeting, Tony did not raise any questions to management nor did he provide any insight during the discussion on fundraising options. When it came to a vote on direction, he voted with the majority. This is a fairly common approach for him.”
How to Graciously Receive the Gift of Feedback
You’ve just been handed a thick report on your performance in the boardroom. Try these top tips to help you work through your director evaluation feedback:
Wear Three Hats. Read your report three times with three different lenses:
- What – what is the feedback?
- So what – what are your reactions to the feedback?
- Now, what – what are you going to do with the feedback?
Pause and Coach Yourself. Consider the following guiding questions in preparation for your one-on-one debrief with the Chair:
- What do you think about the areas of greatest contribution identified by your peers?
- Where do you see opportunities for you to improve your contribution?
- Are you surprised by any of the feedback?
- What specific development actions will you take as a result of the feedback?
Don’t Ignore the Good. It is basic human nature to brush the good aside and focus on the ‘what did they say about me’ negatives. Or even worse, ‘who said what’. We can’t stress this firmly enough – don’t skip over the positive feedback.
Consider the Context. The feedback included in your director evaluation is based on observed behaviour in the boardroom as a director, at a given point in time. Behaviour can change over time as you grow in your role and dedicate time to expanding your knowledge and skills.
Remember, the purpose of the process is to help you improve in your role as a director with the overall goal of continual board-wide improvement. The gift of feedback may not always be easy to give or receive, but if you let it, it can be a valuable gift that keeps on giving. Better directors, better board, better organization.