Self-Assessment – WHY?  – you know about the pain long before your doctor

In my business, I often hear two sincerely held observations about the true value of self-assessment. They say self-assessment can only be of marginal value and that there is too much subjectivity in peer evaluations. It’s time to put these comments in perspective.


You are taking your seat at dinner and suddenly feel a sharp pain – just a touch of arthritis perhaps. Not surprising as we are getting older. At that moment you do not need to take any corrective action as you tell yourself you will wait to see if it persists. You have just taken step one of self-assessment. Any pain at all is a signal that something is not right. If it were to persist and if ignored, then we all know of very serious consequences that could result. Most often though, for a pain lasting more than say 48 hours, the medicos would be consulted.  Usually some treatment is prescribed and all will be back to normal in a very short time. The point to be made here is that nobody would suggest that the pain should be endured until the next scheduled check-up by the doctor which could be months away.

How would this apply to the decision to have your board evaluated? The truth is that just like you are best qualified to identify a pain in your own body, so boards are best qualified and most knowledgeable about the inner workings and problems faced by their team. After all, collectively, they spend the maximum time working in the team and reading all materials as well as attending the vast majority of the meetings. To get to a point of calling in external remedy assistance, advanced diagnostics or advice is a good thing. Here I must acknowledge the value of consultants having much greater understanding of governance principles and offer real and direct assistance to the board. Bringing them in to supplement a comprehensive and objective automated self-assessment, is the best of both worlds.

We can now derive an optimum formula for board performance improvement. Self-assessment ratings and opinions processed through an advanced, automated performance measurement tool for the board, CEO, each director and the Chair along with each committee. Governance Park by Skillspeak is the best tool available to achieve this aim. The MRI-like reports and pictures can be made available to an expert governance consultant, who can then focus on the big-ticket problem areas as a correction map for the next evaluation period. Then repeat it all 12 months later, until continuous performance quality improvement is a reality.

Help your doctor to help you by sharing the pain – but promptly !

Subjectivity vs Objectivity

Yes it is absolutely true that one person’s opinion of another is SUBJECT to their own life experiences and precedents. This is the crux of subjectivity. The good news however, is that this does not mean that peer review ratings are to be ignored. We simply need to understand the phenomenon and minimise any unfavourable outcomes.

In a Governance Park by Skillspeak assessment, we have mastered the alchemy of turning the subjective into the objective. Some basic principles can be cited to show how this is achieved.

Contributing Factors

Firstly, the element of the level of agreement between observers that the blue car with a white stripe speeding away from the accident IS a blue car with a white stripe if 12 independent witnesses separately describe it without any opportunity for consultation.

There is no other possible explanation of a team assessing an element of their performance significantly differently one year apart, unless there has been a commensurate movement in the team’s actual performance of that element.

Secret ballot is essential – there is no use pretending that open forum assessments can produce the truth – human nature causes people to amend the truth or forcefulness of their true opinion when requested to offer it in open forum.

If a person being evaluated in a peer review receives a far less favourable score then the others and the opportunity to deliver the truth exists, then the most likely explanation is that the person’s performance does need attention. There is one mitigating factor here which applies mainly to boards. Directors need to exercise their fiduciary duty and this means independent decision making without fear or favour. In some instances, a fiercely independent director with strongly held opinions can receive a poor rating from the other directors. This can simply be because the other directors feel threatened, challenged and forced to think through all the issues. For this reason, it is important that all directors have a choice of how their results are to be distributed. The privacy option offered in Governance Park by Skillspeak is for each person to see only their own results and that of the board. This protects individuals from having merely a bad peer report used as a means of removing them from their position. In boards where the matter of independence is not an issue, the option of full disclosure to the Chair can be requested after a unanimously-carried board resolution to that effect endorses it.