Corporate boards are figuring out that regular, pointed evaluation of themselves is vital to improving the job they do. But just because your board has made the move to self-evaluation doesn't mean that you're doing it right. What are some of the more common board evaluation fumbles?

1. Too much, too soon.
"If you start with a 50-question formal assessment, most of your directors aren't ready, and won't have enough data" warns Mark Akerly, of Sigma Resource Group consultants. "Our experience is that you should start very briefly, say with an hour of open-ended board discussion, on how we did last year, and what we want to accomplish next year.

2. Spending too little time on the critical things that only a board can provide.
"When the board asks itself what it does, it usually first answers with something like, 'well, we meet quarterly'. Ask what things your board needs to do to add value. This can cover a lot of areas, like taking a long-term view, or giving good counsel to the CEO, but narrow it down to half a dozen items, such as overseeing the strategic process, or assuring financial stability." Quantify items you can benchmark for 12 or 24 months.

3. Weak follow through.
After the evaluation, "typically, not a lot gets done until the next quarterly board meeting, or even until the next evaluation" notes Akerly. To assure that issues are followed-up on, try assigning each item to an individual director for attention, and reporting back at the next meeting. "Say this is what we've got to do, and this is who's going to lead it."

4. Rushing into evaluating individual directors.
"Once your board is comfortable with evaluation, the next step is to assess individuals," says Akerly. "But that stage is going to take at least a year -- do the other pieces first."

Copyright © 2001 Ralph Ward's Boardroom INSIDER