Success comes with seeing ourselves as others see us

The famous Scottish poet and lyricist Robbie Burns is probably best known for penning the words of “Auld Lang Syne”, cheerfully muttered and spluttered at numerous New Year’s parties around the world.

What, you might well ask, has this to do with governance?  Well, the man also known as the Bard of Ayreshire happened to write another poem entitled “To a Louse” which carried the immortal line “O would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us.”

And I guess that’s where governance – and we at Governance Matters – comes in, with our Board Skill Set and Diversity Assessment.


These days, good governance dictates that boards need individuals with diversity and the skill sets to meet the needs of the entity now and into the future. Thankfully, most boards understand this – and it could even be argued that it has become rather de rigueur for boards to undertake this skill set and diversity assessment themselves, to determine whether they are missing anything, what it might be and, most importantly, what they intend to do about it.

We’re usually called in once the board has completed self-assessments and then decide some objectivity in the assessment is called for. This is wise as, in our experience, boards in their self-assessment tend to be deficient in one of two ways.

Either the members will overestimate how skilled they are in a particular discipline, or their skill definitions are too loose.  I recall an instance where ‘legal skills’ were highlighted as vital and the family lawyer on the board scored himself a five-out-of-five in his assessment.  That’s a wholly inaccurate score when what the board really needed was corporate and commercial legal nous rather than someone adept at divorce and child custody matters.

Our approach ensures that we cover all bases, starting with an assessment of the strategic plan to determine the skills and expertise needed to deliver on it. The matrix lists all the skills down the first column, with directors asked in the second column to weigh these according to – in an ideal board scenario – how important it would be to have these skills; the third column asks directors to score the degree to which the current board has these skills.

What’s really fascinating is the final column, where board members are asked to rate themselves. And, not surprisingly and almost to a person, they overestimate themselves, a veritable chasm existing between what’s in column three and column four.

It’s the middle two columns that carry to answers and the only ones to be considered if we’re to do the assessment justice. And that ultimately comes down to how boards respond to the assessment findings.

Poor boards tend to see the assessment as little more than a box ticking exercise, whereas good boards take it seriously, value the findings and act on them, even if they throw up results that are uncomfortable and suggest that someone on the board needs to step down.

These are the boards prepared to take dear old Robbie Burns’ advice and see themselves as others see them…to the benefit of the board, the entity and the stakeholders.

Until next time,
Kate.

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