On My Agenda: Linking Board Assessments to Public Value

By Henry Stoever    //    Volume 31,  Number 2   //    March/April 2023

One of the most important ways to strengthen effective, consequential board governance and senior leadership is through boards conducting annual assessments of their effectiveness. Such assessments give boards and senior leaders the opportunity to reflect on, deliberate over, and intentionally improve their contributions.

As evidence of AGB’s commitment to elevating board performance with and for our members, last year we added a new benefit for every AGB member: a complimentary board self-assessment tool available to your board professional at AGB.org/BoardSelfAssessment. The tool includes 30 standardized questions covering the fundamental components of effective board governance and is a tremendous resource for our members to create a data-driven starting point to identify strengths and opportunities.

In addition to using the AGB self-assessment tool, we encourage boards to develop a deeper, more customized tool that focuses on the board’s effectiveness at advancing the institution’s strategic priorities. As part of this journey of discovery, we encourage board members at least once per year to discuss what questions should be included in this assessment. For example, questions might include: “How well is our board able to think strategically, prioritize outcomes of our institution or foundation in collaboration with our chief executive, and think independently while acting collectively?” Other questions may be more specific, such as “Is our board and leadership team prepared for succession?” As questions are prioritized, boards and chief executives should also consider and measure their institution’s contributions to public value.

I think we can all agree that American colleges and universities contribute to the well-being of their communities, their regions, and the world. Measuring these contributions can be more difficult than measuring something concrete, such as enrollment, retention, and graduation rates; employment outcomes; and budgets. But higher education must demonstrate and champion its value in creating an educated citizenry and helping shape a prosperous society.

The recent recipients of the John W. Nason Award for Board Leadership (AGB.org/Award) offer examples of boards that have successfully harnessed institutional and foundation resources to strengthen their local, regional, and national constituencies. This issue of Trusteeship magazine features the five recipient boards of the 2023 Nason Award, several of whom provided great benefits to their communities.

Boards and presidents might also leverage such national campaigns as Discover the Next (Discoverthenext.org), an effort to raise the collective voices of institutions around the world to champion the value of higher education. AGB, the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, and the American Council on Education are collaborating to shape and drive the outcomes of the Discover the Next campaign and have invited institutions around the world to participate. Separately, several public university systems are coalescing around the National Association of System Heads College Is Worth It campaign. Governing boards can add value to these efforts by communicating the value of their institutions and higher education as a whole.

When contributing to public value, consistent improvement is key. Part of the value of leveraging assessments is to help governing boards and presidents reflect and generate iterative improvements. Boards and executive leaders can ask themselves what went right and what could have been improved upon; whether major changes are necessary, or only minor tweaks are required to augment the outcomes for their institution
or foundation. When discussing with administrative leaders, boards should remain at a high level in their comments and strategies, and not encroach on management’s purview.

When your board and executive leaders are planning annual assessments, I encourage you to reach out to us at consulting@AGB.org to discuss how your board can take advantage of our team’s tools, experience, and executive empathy and help customize an assessment process that fits the exact needs of your institution, system, or foundation. These comprehensive assessments allow boards and presidents to probe specific issues, develop plans for improvement, and prepare for success. They can measure contributions to public value in addition to a host of other factors that your board is interested in pursuing. To learn more, visit AGB.org/Consulting.

As always, thank you for your engagement with AGB. I look forward to you evaluating and strengthening your board governance performance this year, with AGB, and considering how to include your institution’s contribution to public value in your assessment metrics.

Henry Stoever
AGB President and Chief Executive Officer