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Individual trustee performance reviews

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Why review individual trustee performance?

Under the principle of board effectiveness the Charity Governance Code (the code) recommends that in larger charities, alongside a board review, the performance of individual trustees is also reviewed annually.

Although initially the prospect of reviewing the performance and contribution of individual trustees can seem daunting - this need not be the case. There are varying levels of depth for individual reviews ranging from a full 360 feedback to light touch self-reflections. This section explores these options and is designed to help you decide what is most appropriate for your board.

There are lots of good reasons why it is worth undertaking individual performance review including:

  • Personal reflection: The process can allow trustees the opportunity to reflect and develop based on what has gone well and areas which have been less successful. This develops a culture of learning and feedback which is healthy for any organisation.
  • Personal development: The process offers a unique opportunity for personal development and can help to inform board and individual development plans.
  • Stakeholder feedback: Detailed exercises allow an opportunity for multiple stakeholders to feedback to the board in a way which would not typically be possible during the course of a governance cycle. This means that trustees hear from new and different perspectives.
  • Board culture: There is good evidence to underline the importance of the behaviour and attitudes of trustees in driving good governance.  An individual performance review is an opportunity to take stock of board culture and ensure trustees are demonstrating behaviours and attitudes that are aligned to the organisation’s culture.
  • Address problems early: One-to-one meetings are an opportunity to spot and address problems early on rather than allowing them to escalate.
  • Trustee engagement: If trustees receive feedback, feel valued and have a clear understanding of their role and specific contribution, they are likely to remain engaged and add value. 

Before you get started

In order to get the most out of any discussion or self-reflection about a trustee’s performance, it is important to ensure that:

  • Trustees understand their role and responsibilities: Charity Commission guidance, CC3, clearly sets out the core role and responsibilities of trustees 
  • There are clear role profiles in place
  • There is an established and shared understanding of the expected commitment and conduct of trustees.
  • The board has agreed objectives to work towards.

Without these elements an individual review risks becoming subjective, meaning that feedback can feel personally motivated.  This is often counterproductive, with the result being that a trustee feels insulted and de-motivated.  NCVO’s board basics section contains templates for role profiles, a trustee code of conduct and our governance wheel tool which can help establish objectives.

Different approaches

It is important to understand that there is not a ‘one-size fits all’ approach to reviewing trustee performance – the format and content will inevitably depend on your organisation’s size and the resource available to you.

Below we have outlined a range of approaches; from the light touch, using self-reflection, to a full 360 review.  With each of these approaches we have outlined:

  • Who might carry this out?
  • What this might look like?
  • Any other considerations

For larger organisations, The Charity Governance Code recommends that a formal review of an individual trustee’s performance is done once a year.  If resource and time allows, this could be a 360 review but for many boards, this is likely to be more akin to the one-to-one review approach outlined below.  Both approaches involve gathering feedback from other stakeholders.  This feedback forms an important part of the review process as trustees are not solely accountable or responsible to the chair or vice chair and objectives are often shared.   If you are a smaller organisation and or new to reviewing trustee performance, you may want to use a light touch option to get started.

It is important to note that all these approaches do not stand need to isolation.  In order to maximise the contribution of individual trustees, it is worth considering how you can combine these approaches.  For example, if you are larger organisation you may want to use a lighter touch approach alongside a 360 review.

Using self-reflection

What might this look like:  The light touch option would be for a trustee to consider their own performance against a set of established questions (see individual trustee self-reflection). Taking the time to reflect on your own performance supports the development of increased self-awareness and supports a learning culture. 

Who might carry this out:  In the first instance, this would be completed by a trustee.  This can be supported by a meeting with the chair or vice-chair who may listen to an individual’s reflections on performance and offer a perspective against the trustee role profile and other documents capturing established expectations.  The individual can then set themselves some objectives for the year ahead.

One-to-one review

What might this look like:  In advance of a review, the trustee is asked to reflect on their own performance and objectives. Additional feedback is gathered, via a survey or an email, with a select number of stakeholders. This could include other trustees and key members of staff and or volunteers, for example. 

Time is then set aside for the trustee to reflect on their own performance and objectives. Feedback from the selected stakeholders is used to help support the individual’s self-reflection.

Who might carry this out:  Due to the potentially sensitive and time-consuming nature of this process, we strongly recommend that the board seeks external support, in gathering feedback from stakeholders. External support might be from a consultant or from a volunteer such as a colleague from another charity.  Where a volunteer is used to support with this process, it’s important to select someone who has integrity, is respected by the board and has no conflicts of interest relating to individual trustees. Depending on the nature of your review, it might also be wise to ask a volunteer to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Other considerations: Gathering feedback from other stakeholders needs to be handled with care.  Therefore, at the start of the process the board need to agree how feedback is going to be shared and used.

360 feedback

What might this look like:  Similar to a one-to-one review, the trustee is asked to reflect on their own performance and objectives in advance. A 360-feedback typically involves surveying or interviewing a wider group of stakeholders than in a one-to-one review, including the whole board, senior managers and potentially other stakeholders. Feedback can be gained through interviews or surveys, against a set of agreed questions which link to the trustee role profile and established expectations set out in a trustee code of conduct and board objectives.

This feedback should then be confidentially collated and analysed. Themes can be shared through a structured one-to-one meeting with each trustee under review.

Future looking objectives can then be established and agreed for the next period and commitments made.

Who might carry this out: We strongly advise that this process be led by a skilled independent external facilitator who can digest responses, construct and offer feedback. 

Other considerations: Gathering feedback from other stakeholders, needs to be handled with care.  Therefore, at the start of the process the board need to agree how feedback is going to be shared and used.

Other considerations

Time and place

The timing and location of a performance review can make a difference.  Both parties need to feel comfortable in the setting and have the head space to make the most of the process; so, for example, avoid carrying these out during periods of stress and or upheaval.  Sensitive issues may need to be addressed so make sure the meeting takes place in a setting where both parties feel they can talk openly.

Keeping a record

It is important to keep notes of any feedback and agreed actions. These will act as a shared record and can be referred to later. 

If several trustee performance reviews are being carried out at the same time, it may be the case that common themes are identified from the reviews. It can be helpful to share these common themes with the rest of the board.  Sharing common themes will help the rest of the board to understand the context of any future actions and can support the development of the board.

The value of informal meetings

Informal one-to-one meetings play an important role in keeping individual trustees motivated and engaged.  These meetings provide trustees with a regular opportunity to share what is going well, what is not going so well and where they need additional support. They also help the board address any problems early.  These meetings would typically be led by the chair and or vice chair.  If the chair or vice chair has limited capacity, it may be worth considering how trustees can support each other to reflect on a regular basis how things are going.

The Association of Chairs has some great resource to help chairs and vice chairs work effectively with their trustees

ICSA: The Chartered Governance Institute have a range of resources to support the development of effective governance.

Last reviewed: 19 May 2022

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This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 19 May 2022

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