The Board Effectiveness Guild:
What is it and why we set it up now

It may surprise some board directors and governance observers, but there are no barriers to entry if an individual wants to provide their services as a board evaluator. It makes sense that if the board’s leadership of the organisation needs to be effective then the effectiveness of those chosen to evaluate the board is just as critical.

However, there are no qualifications, experience nor regulated standards of behaviour needed to be a board evaluator. It was this rather shocking situation that prompted the creation of The Board Effectiveness Guild.

The four founding members of the Guild – all experienced board evaluators – explain below what it is and why it was necessary to establish it at this time.

Guild members

  • Ian White – originally from a legal background and as a senior executive, Ian has seen for himself the impact of ineffective boards. As Bob Garratt said, “the fish rots from the head’! This has motivated Ian to explore the most effective ways to enable boards to perform to their potential.
  • Chris Stamp – an experienced company secretary and corporate governance expert, Chris understands the need to get into the detail of board operation and understand the board’s priorities. With that knowledge he can get to the heart of any issues which may be undermining the ongoing effectiveness of the board.
  • David Archer comes from a background developing executive teams, and he understands that many executives can see the board as hurdle to get over rather than an opportunity. As he puts it: “It is the board’s connections with the rest of the organisation that build the reputation of the board with wider stakeholders.”
  • Alex Cameron analyses board operation from a group dynamics perspective, viewing the board as more of a “collaborative group than a conventional team”. Making the tension between executives and non-executives work enables the necessary decision making essential to effective board operation.

Guild members

Members of the Guild collectively agree that if we ask boards to adhere to a set of standards then it is only right that board evaluators should also operate in a similar manner. Without any external code currently in place for board evaluators to follow, the Guild members have decided to fill the gap themselves. Fundamentally the Guild requires that members adhere to a Code of Practice which defines our values and our way of working. The Guild provides members an opportunity to learn from each other and the Guild will become a voice for the values and standards that we share. The Guild aims to be a repository of thought leadership on board evaluation, shining a light on best practice.

The founding members have taken time to form the Guild, recognising that such groups need strong alignment of collective values. If this does not take place such groups can be damaged by internal strife. The Guild aims to be small and select. But it is not a homogeneous group, the four individuals have different perspectives and different professional and sector experience, but they align to a common set of values reflected in the Code of Practice.

Code of Practice

Why effective board evaluators matter

The role of the board evaluator is an onerous responsibility, as Ian has commented, “with the potential to do more damage than a corporate lawyer!” A poorly conducted evaluation experience can potentially impact on the reputation of the board and the relationships and dynamics which enable the effective operation of board. A poorly carried out evaluation can also diminish the reputation of the whole board review process. So, how will the Guild affect the performance of its members?

The role of the board evaluator is comparable to mediators and executive coaches. As such, training and qualifications may be useful, but they alone are not the answer. What matters is ongoing self-criticism. Just as a coach needs their supervisor, Guild members need peer group challenge to support them and a clear standard of behaviour as has been outlined in the Guild Code of Practice.

As a group, Guild members are agreed that the best practice in board evaluation is to operate with objectivity and independence. The Guild aim to bring their experience – without arrogance – to bear on the needs of each board they evaluate, moving away from simply playing back to the board what it already knows or wants to hear. At every stage they will focus on adding insight and value to enable each board to develop and grow their leadership and their operation.