I think it’s fair to say that learning and understanding monitoring can be a steep curve for both board and CEO. It’s a bit of an unknown process to most boards when they start their Policy Governance® journey.
The mere mention of monitoring at a board meeting can cause deep sighs, grimaces, rolling of eyes, or knowing nods. A fictitious account of a common conversation I have as the board is coming to grips with what monitoring involves.
- Me: “Monitoring is the life blood of Policy Governance. It’s how you know your policies are being achieved. It’s how the CEO demonstrates accountability to the board. It’s essential to evaluating CEO performance.”
- Board: “We know it’s important. But it takes so much time.”
- Me: “It’s is definitely a learned skill. You won’t have used it before unless you have been on another board that uses Policy Governance. Remember when you first learned to swim, canoe, ice skate, or bake bread? You likely weren’t very efficient in your first attempts.”’
- Board: “Okay, we get it. But still…it takes so much time.”
- Me: All right then, let’s take a look at what you can do.”
If your board has been having similar discussions, the following questions will help you figure out what steps your board can take to become more efficient – and still be effective.
1. Do you have a monitoring schedule that fits your board?
Do you monitor policies at the right time in an annual cycle? The CEO can assist in identifying the right time to monitor. Its essential that relevant data is available when it is time to assemble the evidence for the report. For example, it makes sense to monitor (financial) planning in tandem with the completion of the budget, a likely source of evidence. Does the frequency of the monitoring report fit with the level of organizational risk? If the data doesn’t change very much, you might monitor on a longer cycle. Avoid monitoring too many policies at the same meeting – this can lead to board members not spending enough time on any one report…because, you guessed it…it takes too much time.
2. Do board members know how to assess a monitoring report?
Often the review of monitoring reports takes more time than necessary because board members aren’t sure what to look for. Your board needs to develop the skills to read a report and determine if the interpretation is reasonable and if there is verifiable evidence – you know the source of data and when it was collected. There are a variety of ways to develop those skills. We have excellent resources, including our recently introduced and positively reviewed online course. [Insert link] The more proficient board members are about reading and assessing a report, the more efficient they become at this highly important job. Developing and enhancing the skills to assess reports helps reduce the time needed.
3. Does your CEO have the skills to write precise interpretations and evidence?
Writing a monitoring report is a skill. A CEO’s first reports may contain a variety of ‘nice to know’ information – definitions that aren’t necessary, plans for the upcoming monitoring cycle, ‘interesting’ asides, and so on. Not only can this increase the time needed to read the report, it can distract board members from the real job. Make sure your CEO has access to the education or coaching to prepare the monitoring reports that your board deserves. The efficiency and quality of your assessment will be improved as the quality of monitoring reports improves.
4. Do you have a system to track the results of your assessments?
Does every board member have their own way of assessing reasonableness and evidence? Are you asking for only general impressions of the whole report? If you use either of these methods, it will take a lot more time to determine the board’s conclusions about a monitoring report. Using a common worksheet that supports a methodical assessment of a report will make it easy aggregate the results. It will also help the board identify anything that requires discussion at the board’s meeting.
Be sure you are only discussing concerns with the reasonability of the interpretation or the verifiability of the evidence shared by the majority of board members. Discipline in deciding what needs to be allocated time on a board agenda will also reduce unnecessary time spent on monitoring.
While you don’t need online forms that automatically summarize board assessments, they can streamline the process. Prepare motions ahead of time that fit the result of assessment so you are not using meeting time to figure this out. For example, the motion for the most common situation: “The board has assessed the monitoring report for EL-3 Planning and determined that there is verifiable evidence of a reasonable interpretation.”
Remember the year’s assessment of monitoring reports is the CEO’s performance evaluation. It is essential that your board knows what has happened at each step along the way. You don’t want to come to the end of the year and have to go back through all of your minutes to see the results of monitoring. Set up some type of form that tracks the assessment conclusion of each report through the year. Note where the board has asked for a new interpretation or additional evidence and when or if this action was completed.
Monitoring will always demand time of the board. After all, performance evaluation is one of the essential board jobs but you want to spend time wisely and efficiently. Answering the above questions may help you identify actions to take to reduce the time you spend on monitoring Or, your responses may suggest areas where your board would like to improve, in which case we would welcome the opportunity to point you to the appropriate resources or provide coaching in how to become proficient and efficient assessors of monitoring reports.