Bottom-up build or top-down tumble
This is the last in my series of posts on board governance. I began by saying, Show me any measure of institutional distress and I will inevitably discover roots of that dysfunction in significant governance flaws.
With reference to John Carver’s list of typical governance flaws, my last two posts addressed the matters of leaky accountability and ambiguous authority. We come now to the final of the four questions I posed relative to those flaws: Do we have a clear mutual understanding about the cycles and criteria for CEO evaluation?
Good systems of presidential evaluation share the following characteristics:
- They are linked to a clear, mutually agreed-upon set of expectations about institutional performance. If things are not going well, the president may not be to blame, but the president and board are nevertheless responsible. Evaluation must never be allowed to be a sham or a sidestep: a murky, mushy mechanism by which to duck responsibility. Own up.
- They are linked to the president’s written position description, especially a carefully crafted “job product” narrative. Evaluation processes should also include a process of reviewing and, where appropriate, refining and revising these documents.
- They are board-driven (summative) but they include appropriate “360” input (formative) from stakeholders at many levels, including trustees, direct reports, faculty/staff, alumni, etc. A board committee (executive committee or ad hoc presidential review committee) should be designated to conduct the review and report its findings to the board.
- They occur at regular, pre-agreed upon intervals. I tend to favor presidential employment contracts because they provide natural intervals for evaluation. Contracts need not preclude—indeed should specify—the possibility of emergency intervention, dismissal for cause, or early termination by either party with appropriate notice. Initial contract intervals might be shorter (2-3 years) and renewal periods a bit longer (4-5 years).
Wishing you many happy board returns
Remember my friend Sherrill Babb’s aphorism? Organizations are built from the bottom up but they fall apart from the top down. I hope and pray something in this series has contributed to the board building process for your institution.
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