Q: Where can I find an assessment form that the executive director can use to assess the board of directors?

A: Before we talk about where to find forms I would like to start with the assumption that the executive director assesses the board. While many executive directors do provide their board of directors with guidance, focus and in some cases control, legally they are responsible to the board. It’s not the other way around.

I am a strong believer in board assessments, but it is the board’s responsibility to assess itself. Otherwise, you raise three issues with the potential to create problems. First, you are asking the “subordinate” to evaluate the “boss.” True, the “360? Evaluation” with its bottom-up assessment component is a popular and effective assessment technique. But that technique requires other measures be put in place along with the upward evaluation. And, the board would have to choose to initiate such an approach, which I’m not sensing is happening here. Second is the need for the board to buy into the results of the assessment if it is expected to grow from the experience. Neither buy-in nor positive change is likely if someone outside the board itself does the evaluating because there is a natural tendency to respond defensively to outside input – especially when the outsider isn’t your boss. The third issue is related to the last. What is likely to happen when the board goes to evaluate the executive director? Is the situation going to be seen as an opportunity to “get even?” I would just reiterate that the board should be doing its own evaluations.

There is a second assumption in your question that I would challenge, and that is that there are forms “out there” that are appropriate for all types of boards. I suggest we have to expect different things of founding boards than we do of adolescent boards, and still other things of mature boards. I also suggest that expectations will change based on the size of the board and staff and the jobs each takes on. I believe that boards must develop customized evaluation forms that highlight the unique needs and requirements most relevant to their own organizations at a given point in time.

All this being said, there are some forms to which I will refer you. These will help your board begin thinking about the behaviors to which it wants to hold itself accountable. Start by going to Carter McNamara’s Free Management Library at http://www.managementhelp.org/ and click on “Evaluations.” Carter provides several different types of forms boards might employ, along with a vast array of questions. A far more extensive – and expensive! – list of evaluation questions is available through BoardSource (http://www.boardsource.org). The BoardSource form is designed for board members to evaluate their level of satisfaction in 10 key areas of board responsibility. An analysis handbook is available, but the process can also be performed totally online with people submitting their responses that way and the organization receiving a computer-generated compilation and analysis.