AGB President & CEO Update: Assessing Your Chief Executive Officer (Systems)

By Henry Stoever April 6, 2022 May 4th, 2022 Blog Post

You are viewing the System version of this CEO Update. Institutionally Related Foundation and Institution versions are also available.

Last month, I shared leading practices for strategic governing boards to assess their processes and practices to strengthen alignment with institutional and system priorities. In the spirit of continuous improvement, it is also critical—and in fact one of boards’ primary responsibilities—to assess the performance of their chief executives to ensure that same alignment with established expectations, priorities, and outcomes.

Types of CEO Assessments

As stated in AGB’s Assessing and Developing College and University Presidents, written by Terrence MacTaggart, PhD—an AGB senior fellow, senior consultant, and three-time chief executive—boards can use several different types of assessments to evaluate their president or chancellor.

  • Periodic and annual assessments can function as regular “check-ins” designed to give both presidents and boards information they need to be more effective moving forward. Such assessments early in a president’s term can also serve as an “early alert system.”
  • Comprehensive assessments typically occur every three to five years and should be designed to achieve a greater level of understanding about the chief executive’s growth, leadership qualities, and performance. These evaluations are often used to inform contract renewal and compensation discussions and may include 360-degree input from various stakeholders, including board members, direct reports, faculty leaders, and other key participants.
  • Focused assessments can also be a valuable response to a specific set of circumstances, such as a crisis, a no-confidence vote, or financial distress. Done well, this type of an assessment can transform a tense situation toward positive change and advancement. Focused assessments can help strengthen leadership during times of incomplete information and major consequences.

A common thread is that presidential assessments can also strengthen the vitality and effectiveness of the board-chief executive partnership.

Essential Attributes of an Effective Assessment of Your Chief Executive Officer

While assessments vary in scope, depth, and level of engagement, it is essential that they are future-oriented and used to align anticipated performance with institutional and system-wide priorities.

As with board assessments, determining what metrics will be used is critical. Additionally, presidential assessments are a terrific launching point to identify development opportunities for both presidents and board members to improve and enhance leadership.

One important system-specific concern relates to the evaluation of institution chief executives who report to the system head. System boards should have a policy to describe their involvement in assessments of institutional presidents. Further, any evaluation of an institutional chief executive should include the above criteria as well as any metrics that align their performance as officers of the system.

Many AGB members engage with the association to provide tailored support to strengthen boards’ efforts to assess and prepare the chief executive for the years to come. As a member of AGB, you have exclusive access to a proprietary array of resources to assist in conducting chief executive assessments.

Questions for system board and committee chairs in planning an assessment of the CEO

What is the optimal cadence to assess your chief executive, and what type of assessment should be used?

  • Regardless of the board’s desired cadence and assessment type—and as a leading practice—the chief executive should annually write a self-assessment to summarize performance versus goals and objectives that the board has established.
  • These annual discussions should serve as a platform for a more extensive 360-degree assessment tied not only to compensation but also to contract negotiations.

Who from your board, administration, and campus community should participate in the assessment?

  • In addition to board members and administrators (including direct reports), select faculty such as department chairs and/or members of the faculty senate may be asked to participate in the assessment based on their roles.

Should a particular board committee lead the assessment of your chief executive before going to the full board? If yes, which committee?

  • In many cases, the executive committee of the board performs this function.
  • Some boards form an ad hoc special committee to conduct the assessment.

Have you discussed with your chief executive the role of focused assessments, the circumstances when this type of assessment may be warranted, and the process to be followed?

Questions for board members

How will the board measure your chief executive’s progress toward your system’s strategic goals, such as academic quality, support for student success for all students, financial management, and fundraising?

What does the board expect to learn from its chief executive’s assessment—whether periodic, annual, comprehensive, or focused on a specific issue?

Does the system board have a policy describing its role, if any, in assessing institutional chief executives?

Questions for chief executives and leadership teams

How can the results of your board’s assessment influence your self-assessment and your actions going forward?

How can this assessment help you identify areas for further professional development?

In closing, let me emphasize that effective assessments of chief executives can lead to more well-informed, strategic professional development opportunities. I look forward to seeing you at our National Conference on Trusteeship (April 12–14), where assessing your board and chief executive will be prime topics of discussion in multiple sessions.

Thank you for your commitment to exemplary board leadership and engagement with AGB.

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