A competent chair of governors has been recognised as one of the vital elements of effective governance, creating the conditions for the overall board and individual governor effectiveness and leading the board on positively influencing senior leaders and subsequently, institutional performance – but how do you know if you are an effective chair?
360o reviews are a common tool used to reveal the strengths and weaknesses of those whose performance we wish to assess. However, in our opinion, the most common forms of these reviews are flawed. Although carried out with the best intentions, they cannot always be counted upon to deliver the required results. This is because the data that is gathered, is rarely reliable.
Research shows us that we are hopelessly unreliable when rating other people’s behaviour and competencies – this is because we are not objective, no matter how much we try to be. Any rating we give, says more about us as a rater than it does about the person being rated. For example, if you were to rate the Chair highly on setting a clear vision, all we learn is that the chair is clearer on that vision than you. If you rate the chair low, we learn that you are clearer, only relative to the chair. To accurately rate a chair’s competencies, you would need to ensure the raters are a perfectly representative sample of the competencies we are trying to measure – that is how polls work. A governing body, by contrast, is a skewed sample and therefore delivers inaccurate data.
Thankfully, there is a simple solution. Whilst we are poor raters of the behaviour of others, we are good raters of our behaviours and feelings. For example, the statement, ‘I am clear about what the college’s vision is’ is good data compared to the statement, ‘The chair sets a clear vision for the college’. Likewise, ‘I feel my opinions are heard’ is good data compared to, ‘The chair is a good listener’.
In this context then, this tool has been thoughtfully composed to ask each person to rate their experiences, behaviours, and feelings regarding tasks and responsibilities linked to the chair’s role. The resulting data will give a clear and credible result that the chair can use to become more effective in their role. Overall, it adds further depth to the Governing Body’s self-evaluation and enables the Governing Body and individuals to understand their strengths and areas for development.
The tool focuses on the requirements of the Chair in their role. These requirements take into account the Department of Education’s Governance Competency Framework (as it refers to the Chair’s knowledge, skills, and role expectations), and aligned to the template Chair’s role description on Governance4fe, and includes four key competencies expected of a Chair:
- leading effective governance
- building the team
- business planning and institutional improvement
- personal attributes
If you wish to view the questions before circulating the link to the tool, the full list of questions can be found below. Please note the nuance of the statements change depending on whether they are being asked of Governors, the Chair, the Principal/CEO, or the Governance Professional. For example, statement 1 for the Chair is ‘I lead the board on setting the college strategy and I, along with other stakeholders, are clear what the college’s vision is’. The statement for a Governor is ‘I am able to contribute to setting the college strategy and I, along with all stakeholders, are clear what the college’s vision is’.
- The Chair and the governing body agree that a 360o review of the Chair should take place.
- The Governance Professional circulates the relevant link to the review tool to all members of the governing body, including the Chair, the Principal/CEO (and senior leaders if that is deemed appropriate), and his/herself.
- An anonymous response and tally process capture comments that newer or more reticent members may be hesitant to otherwise express. The resulting diagnostics form a report and action plan for the Chair.
- The Chair may find benefit from enlisting the support of a coach or mentor at this point, to support him/her to interpret the results and discuss relevant development opportunities.
- The report is passed to the Chair for them to complete the Reflections and Comments section of the report and action plan.
- Acting on the outcomes of effectiveness reviews is as important as undertaking them. Therefore, it is recommended that this report and action plan are shared with a mentor/coach/the governing body, as deemed appropriate by the Chair.
The review itself will not improve the performance of the Chair, this only comes from a commitment on their behalf to develop and become more effective.
Using the Tool
This tool is part of our Board Review service. More information can be found here.
Pages from a generated report are illustrated below.
List of Questions
LEADING EFFECTIVE GOVERNANCE
I lead the board on setting the college strategy and I, along with other stakeholders, are clear what the college’s vision is.
As a governing body, we set strategic objectives that articulate the college’s vision and ethos.
I understand the difference between the role of the governing body and the role of management and seek to ensure that I retain a strategic focus.
I am aware of how and why I can use delegated authority under chair’s action, and I report any actions to the board.
The governing body provides effective leadership of organisational and / or cultural change.
Guidance is sought from senior leaders, the governance professional, and external advisors where appropriate, as part of the decision-making process.
The board receives the right information from senior leaders, in an accessible and timely way, in a manner that welcomes challenge.
I ensure that meetings are well-organised and run to time. Decisions, actions, and impact are clear and are recorded, and I sign the relevant minutes.
Meetings have an atmosphere of open, honest discussion where governors’ independent professional views and constructive challenge are welcomed.
I listen to the Governance Professional and take direction from them on issues of governance compliance and other governance matters.
I confidently performance manage the Principal/CEO and Governance Professional through an open and accountable process, giving a clear rationale for any proposed pay award.
BUILDING THE TEAM
My relationship with the senior leadership and other governors contains both challenge and support, based on professional trust.
As a new governor, I was suitably inducted into my role.
I ensure all governors feel supported to carry out the required function of oversight of the achievement of the college’s strategic objectives, undertaking training and development where necessary, to address any skills gaps
I understand the strengths and skills of other governors, ensure they have been given delegated oversight of some tasks, making the best use of their expertise.
I encourage all governors to contribute to meetings and listen to their views.
There is an active succession plan in place for the board based on good governance practices regarding the length of terms of office a governor should serve.
I am aware of my own biases, boardroom dynamics, and can approach governors on matters of tension and conflict.
I ensure the skills, knowledge, and experience of governors are fully understood by all and utilised on the board
BUSINESS PLANNING AND INSTITUTIONAL IMPROVEMENT
All stakeholders' voices are heard, and it is demonstrated how such have shaped board discussions and decisions.
Meeting agendas and the work of the governing body focus on the college’s strategic priorities and are driven by the quality improvement plan, risk register, and board development plan.
The board has a good understanding of the college, its strengths and weaknesses, and its local and national context, which informs the governing body’s discussions.
Board meetings operate in a way that embodies the culture, values, and ethos of the institution.
The board has the opportunity to discuss and challenge senior leaders appropriately in setting risk appetite and tolerance.
The board has sight of and understands institutional risks and scrutinises internal controls and risk management plans
The board holds senior leaders to account for the efficient use of resources and safeguarding the college students, staff, assets, and estate
All governors are involved in monitoring the performance of the college against KPIs and objectives the governing body has agreed.
I am aware of and have prepared the board for formal external scrutiny on governance, college performance, and student outcomes.
I am a powerful ambassador for the college in the wider community as well as to students and staff
I encourage governors to be self-reflective, regularly reviewing their practices, behaviours, and impact.
I know what conduct, behaviour, and values are expected of me and I am a role model for such, in line with the Code of Conduct and Nolan Principles.
I value the importance of the governance professional and their input to the leadership of governance within the institution.
I make myself available to governors and senior leaders outside of meetings.
I take seriously my responsibilities regarding equality and diversity, maintaining integrity and confidentiality in my interactions with all stakeholders.
What do you believe is your key strength? Please provide examples and rationale.
What development do you believe would enable you to be a more effective Board leader? Please provide examples of the impact you believe this will have.