A view from the engine room

Written by Ray Mach, Data Analyst/Manager, Board Benchmarking – as part of our latest report ‘Benchmarking board performance: 500 board reviews later’.

My name is Ray Mach. I joined Board Benchmarking during the GFC when there was no knowing what was going to happen next. But I took the chance and ever since I have been at the forefront of analysing data on board performance and effectiveness. I have been involved in almost all of our 500 board reviews.

When I joined the ‘engine room’ of Board Benchmarking it was computerised, but our systems were a little complicated and rigid. My role is very much hands on. I oversee and project manage each client’s engagement with our survey instrument. Once a survey is completed, I analyse the raw data, carry out quality checks and prepare the benchmarked reports for our principals of Board Benchmarking, Nicholas Barnett and Dr Susan Mravlek.

I often refer to the metaphor “If you plant seeds every single day, you will always have something to harvest”. Over time we have learnt lots about our positioning in the market, listened to feedback, reflected on learned experiences, and taken some bold actions. Some of our big steps forward were:

  • a rigorous review of the validity of our survey framework and survey items was conducted with the help of Deakin University and included a literature review of contemporary board practice. It resulted in an important update to our framework and survey items
  • we simplified the benchmarked report for our clients, introduced a landscape layout and colour coding to identify areas of strengths and improvement opportunities. This has been a game changer
  • we reduced the price of all our surveys and made them available online across the world. We also streamlined and simplified our ordering and reporting processes
  • staying well-connected with each other online was also critical during the global pandemic crisis

Based on my experience over the past 15 years and delivering most of the 500 board evaluations, the best performing boards have the following in common:

  • a right mindset led from the top, including open-mindedness and a commitment to a learning culture
  • a highly effective chair
  • directors who know the role they play and who stay out of operations
  • regular renewal of directors that includes diversity in gender, age, ethnicity and lived experiences who work well together to help answer the most critical questions
  • a board that is very supportive of a highly effective CEO
  • having good oversight of the organisation’s strategy, performance and talent pool

Automation has streamlined our processes and made it more efficient for both clients, Board Benchmarking and its partners, which leaves us more time to do the important work. Human intuition, experience and expertise is important, not just to analyse the data but to see the big picture and identify the nuances that may have a bearing on the performance of the board. There’s lots of talk about AI taking over the world but no amount of computer coding will be able to replicate that important dimension of human experience and the expertise it brings in this segment.

I am proud to be part of a team that hosts a world-class product, helps boards navigate through change and unlocks lots of latent potential. Our focus is not just around improving our features to remain sustainable and competitive. It is initiated from a goodwill mindset to make a positive impact on organisations and the community.

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