One of the drawbacks of being a CEO is that you don't have an immediate boss who will give you regular feedback on your performance. This is why your board can be helpful. The right board can be a powerful multiplier of your efforts. Their knowledge, connections and experience can help you improve your organization’s performance.
However, many board members need help providing feedback. Their initial inclination may be to focus on financial performance only.
The trend of opting for board members with diverse functional backgrounds often means that few actually have experience as a CEO. They may not understand how the CEO’s job differs from the other executives in the organization.
For these reasons, it’s up to you to establish a relationship with your board that encourages them to provide appropriate and useful feedback. Here are two ways to do just that.
Provide your board with the right information.
Most of what the board members know about your company is what you tell them in the board meetings. It’s very important to think about what you present and how you present it.
Unfortunately, I have been in far too many board meetings that sound like infomercials. The CEO showcases every department in the best possible light and never mentions any problems. This is pointless if you actually want help from your board.
What the board needs to know is how you as the CEO run the business - not day-to-day specifics about each department. Work with your staff to identify a few key metrics that reflect how each department is doing. Break down the information to a general business level, and stay away from the intricate details.
For example, discuss your overall sales process and how the key metrics at each stage are doing. Board members should have experience with sales processes across many industries and can add value. Talking about a specific deal, unless you are asking a board member for help closing it for some reason, is a waste of time and will often lead down a rabbit hole.
Ask for specific advice.
Here are two methods for gathering feedback from your board.
First, after each board meeting, try to give your board members a homework assignment. Ask them to identify three things you are doing well and three things you or the company can improve.
After gathering their feedback, you should spend some time addressing those issues during the next board meeting, and repeat the process. Closing the loop on this feedback, and taking action on the items will dramatically strengthen your relationship with the board. It can help you improve your performance as well as the company’s.
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Second, once a year ask each of member to complete a CEO scorecard, grading you on your performance. The form I like to use focuses on the five responsibilities of the CEO.
Request each board member to provide a simple grade - between A and F -- for your performance in each area of responsibility. You should also rate yourself in each area.
Comparing how the board rates you to your own ratings can raise issues for reflection. Once the scorecards are complete, you should have a session with the board or a subset of the board, and discuss the grades.
It can be tricky to obtain input from your board. Your leadership in this area will go a long way toward building a healthy relationship that will benefit everyone.