Most board members want to make sure that they are diligent in fulfilling their responsibility to oversee the affairs of the organization. Regular monitoring of staff performance regarding achievement of the vision and outcomes and compliance with board policies governing operations is an effective way for the board to achieve this objective. It is an essential job function of the board and is its most powerful tool for demonstrating accountability to members, clients, customers and other stakeholders.
As the designated leader of the board, it is your responsibility to see that the board develops a schedule for carrying out this function throughout the year. Some aspects of organizational performance should be monitored and reported on at each board meeting. Just as the board would not leave financial reporting to the last meeting of the year, it should not leave reporting on the other areas of performance to the end of the year.
A tool that is very useful for this purpose is the strategic plan. If your organization doesn’t have one then it should put one in place very quickly. A good strategic plan not only has a vision and strategic goals or outcomes (the ones that existed over a long period of time) it also has the annual goals/outcomes that the staff is working to achieve in the current year. Reviewing progress toward achievement of these goals/outcomes on a set schedule throughout the year enables you to effectively monitor organizational performance. The key is to measure what has been achieved toward the outcome and not the activity of staff and volunteers.
The importance of the monitoring function requires that it not be an occasional or once a year activity. It is something that must occur on a regular basis throughout the year. Just as board reviews the status of its financial condition at its regular or quarterly board meetings, it should also review progress on vision and outcomes and compliance with board policies at specified times throughout the year.
The way to do this is to identify on the board’s annual calendar at what meetings the various policies will be monitored. These automatically become items on the board’s regular meeting agendas.
Features of Governance Oversight
• Oversight activity occurs at most if not all board meetings. The most effective approach is to establish a schedule of when oversight reports will be presented to the board.
• The data collected in the oversight process should be specific to the achievement of board stated outcomes, compliance with operational conditions or constraints and any other performance expectations the board has established for the Executive Director.
• The report should be evidence-based. In reporting progress on outcomes or compliance with board policies, the person or group doing the reporting is making statements cupported by hard evidence. For example: If, in reporting, on financial conditions, the Executive Director claims compliance with board policy requiring the organization’s reserves to be deposited only in Canadian Class A banks, they would include in the report the amount of reserves along with information noting the bank(s) in which the reserves are being held and the amount on deposit in each bank.
John Carver, author of Boards that Make a Difference, has identified the following three ways or methods for performing the monitoring or oversight function. It is unusual to employ more than one method for this function, however, if the board is not satisfied with the results from the method chose, it is at liberty to employ any of the other methods.
Staff Report (usually the Executive Director: The Executive Director submits an evidence-based progress or compliance report.
Third Party/ External Consultant Report: a disinterested third party (such as a consultant, Executive Director of a non-related agency, someone from a professional association or a regulator) selected by the board is engaged to assess progress or compliance based on the board’s existing criteria and standards, and to provide an evidence-based report.
Board Task Group Report: the board, throughout the appointment of one or more of its Directors, conducts its own review to determine progress or compliance. The board member or task group is then responsible for supplying the board with the evidence-based report.
(The material on monitoring is based on the work of John Carver, Boards that Make a Difference