What do you do when a new Director is not performing to the standard expected of them? Whether this Director was tapped on the shoulder or was the successful applicant, ongoing performance should be non-negotiable.
If you encounter a Director that does not aim to perform, despite a robust induction program and a schedule of personal mentoring, don’t let the situation continue without being addressed. Underperformance should be dealt with promptly.
Sometimes Directors are unaware they are not performing or reaching the standards expected of them. This makes them unlikely to change their performance without instruction. Some directors may even feel their personal performance expectations are lower in the nonprofit sector, a conclusion that must be swept away.
Having clear standards of skill and a performance-based culture is important to ensuring a fair benchmark is set for all Board members.
What might Underperformance look like for a Director on your Board?
- Being unable, or unwilling to think deeply about pertinent strategic organizational issues or relevant details of operations
- Cannot ask probing questions of management; unable to hold management to task if required
- Acts divisively and routinely attempts to attack the reputation of the other Board members behind closed doors. Shows little regard for the opinion of others.
- Behaves like a “passenger” during Board meetings: appears distracted at meetings or gives too little focus to board responsibilities.
A Board member that exhibits poor conduct in these ways can damage director focus and could erode board credibility with management and staff. Toxic behavior must be addressed before it can create disunity on the Board.
Addressing performance challenges on the Board:
How do you handle a Director that is just not adding strategic value? Handling the situation as sensitively as possible, and doing it quickly, are both important. How you do this will also change depending on whether you are the Chair, a Director, or the CEO.
What are some reasons for under performance?
Resist the temptation to create assumptions around the underperforming Director. Instead, consider any number of the following situations which could create conditions for lackluster performance. Keep in mind these are not excuses with which to justify one’s performance.
- A director doesn't know what is expected of them: goals and/or standards have not been clearly defined
- There is a mismatch between a director’s capabilities and the job they are required to undertake, or the director does not have the knowledge or skills to do the job expected of them
- A director does not know whether they are doing a good job because there is no counseling or feedback on their performance
- A lack of personal motivation due to low morale in the Boardroom
- Personal issues such as family stress, physical and/or mental health problems are present
- A focus on just one issue to the detriment of any sort of strategic conversation
With these factors in mind, poor performance that is ongoing needs to be addressed and managed, lest it pose a risk to the remaining Board members and the vision of the organization. Consider these tips for Chairs and Directors (with support from the CEO) in creating an environment that will support higher performance from Directors. This can be done either with private conversations between Directors or with the Chair, as part of the annual Board review, on an ad-hoc basis as required, or as part of a formal mentoring program.
6 ways you can assist a new Director to reach their potential on your Board
Ensuring your house is in order before a new crop of directors begin their tenure can help them find their feet, especially those with limited formal experience. Consider implementing each of the following for more constructive meetings and more focused discussions.
- Restructure the Board agenda so it reflects the key elements of the strategic plan. Minimize any operational reports and focus the operational reports so they highlight any strategic issues rather than detail of operational minutiae. This keeps the Director more focused on key areas of responsibility and assists in strategic decision making.
- Recast all reports from CEO, staff and committees so they directly relate back to the strategic plan, identify the key strategic issues and discussion points, and make recommendations or provide ranges of options.
- Develop guest speaker sessions to support the Board. This might include presentations from other CEOs of like organizations, funding bodies, academics, etc. with a real focus on strategic issues facing these sectors or organizations, and the implications for your organization and Directors.
- Ensure your Chair has the required Chairing skills. Consider suggesting a Chairing course as a prerequisite for all Chairs of Committees and the Board.
- Develop a formal mentor system for new Board members to facilitate understanding of (amongst other things) what constitutes Board and management matters, and why, and the decision making processes utilized to make those determinations. Match mentors with new Board members based on skill in mentoring.
- Facilitate and nurture high-level questioning skills amongst Board members. Provide some high-level questions for the Board to consider with your reports.
Above All, Don’t Let Non-Performance Go On!
If none of these work, and a Director’s involvement is still unacceptably poor, then it is time for the Governance Committee and the Chairman to fulfill one of their roles: performance management of the Directors.