Before they get away: Board member exit interviews

John Barnes
March 1, 2018
Before they get away: Board member exit interviews

An association volunteer has committed four years of their professional life to serving on your association’s board of directors. They have been involved in the most important decisions that your association has faced over the last four years. They have held innumerable conversations with your association’s members. They have interacted with the association staff and have developed professional relationships and even friendships. They have likely interacted with other association leaders, legislators, regulators, and other external groups in their role as a board member.

These exiting board members are a treasure trove of information that you should tap into so that you can improve the work of the board of directors, improve the volunteer experience of your board members, and improve your association. The board exit interview will help you tap this treasure trove.

Board exit interviews should be conducted by the Board president or the CEO. This ensures that the results of the interviews can be kept confidential, thus eliciting more honest responses. Having the Board president or the CEO conduct the interviews also ensures that the input is reaching the highest levels of the association.

Some potential questions for a board exit interview include:

  • What did you enjoy most about your board service?
  • What did you enjoy least? What would have made the experience better?
  • What are the three most valuable lessons you have learned about governance matters?
  • What are the primary attributes that made board meetings successful?
  • How might we improve board meetings?
  • Did you feel that your time was spent on important or valuable issues and tasks?
  • Did you feel that you were able to make a difference?
  • Did you feel that your opinions and contributions were heard and valued?
  • Do you feel that you had access to the information and training necessary to be an effective board member and to make decisions at board meetings? If not, how can we improve?
  • Based on your experience, what advice about board service would you give to a new member of the board?
  • What do you wish you had known when you joined the board but did not know?
  • Did we use your talents effectively? If not, what steps can we take to ensure we do so with future board members?
  • Are there any steps that I can take to improve as the association’s Board president or CEO?

Let the questions frame the conversation but be prepared to have the conversation go in directions that you might not anticipate. Probe the board member on issues so you are confident that you understand what they are trying to convey.

Be ready for, and open to, constructive criticism. Every organization and every individual can get better at what they do. Press your exiting board members to be honest and direct with both praise and criticism so that you will know the strengths and weak points of your association and the work you are doing as a Board president or CEO.

Finally, put the input you get from the interviews into action. Nothing would be worse than to go through the motions of exit interviews and not learn from the input. Make sure that you put the input into actionable items that will help your future board and your organization.

So before they get away, sit down with your exiting board members and get ready to learn.

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John Barnes

John Barnes is president of Barnes Association Consultants. Barnes Association Consultants helps association boards and CEOs address the wide range of challenges and opportunities facing today’s association leaders. Services include strategic planning, board development and work management, and governance review and improvements. Before launching Barnes Association Consultants, John was CEO at the American Physical Therapy Association.  John worked closely with the APTA Board and Directors and was responsible for the management of the association. Previous to serving as CEO at APTA, John worked at the American Academy of Dermatology as their Deputy Executive Director. John was a leader in all aspects of managing the organization. John has extensive public policy experience through his years serving on Capitol Hill.  John was Chief of Staff to Congressman Greg Ganske of Iowa, where he managed and directed congressional offices in Washington and Iowa. He also served as Special Assistant for Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa. John is a member of the American Society of Association Executives, Association Forum, BoardSource and the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce.

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