Typical issues for Boards Considering Policy Governance
Some people hear of the principles of Policy Governance, and embrace the concept immediately. Often board members need to learn the whole model before they have the comfort that they will be able to perform their responsibilities. Here are some of the topics that you and your board may want to discuss with your consultant.
- Policy Governance is a fairly new way of working. Even those who have served on many boards seldom have experience with Policy Governance. Since it is a complete system, not a group of helpful hints, the model has to be learned by each board member. This requires time and effort.
- Most people have some experience with management, and will want to bring management tools and techniques to governance. Usually, this is a mistake. This means that the pile of staff reports that most board members are accustomed to receiving simply vanish. A board that is struggling to keep up with staff reports is in no position to lead. Managers who sit on boards have to discover that the tools of governance will be effective in achieving the results the board requires.
- When new board members arrive, they want to know what the organization does. Then they want to talk about how the organization should be run. The business of what the organization does is the job of management, not governance. People who want to discuss these matters are frustrated when that is ruled out of order. With Policy Governance, the board's job is to articulate what the organization is there to achieve. It is management's job to decide how to do it, and to act accordingly. Interestingly, it is often easier to sense what needs to be done than to say why it should be done at all. This is usually the most difficult concept for board members to grasp; and there are many issues that arise from this point.
- In small organizations, where the staff and the board are often the same people, the distinction between the jobs must be maintained. If a board member cannot wear both hats and separate the functions, then it is advisable for that person to choose only one role.
- Often board members are nominated because they represent a certain group of people, or a geographical region. One of the principles of Policy Governance is that the board speaks with one voice, or not at all. Representative board members may bring the perspective of their constituency to board deliberations; but while they are on the board they will act on behalf of the interests of all the owners. Dissension and discussion are encouraged so that the board has the facts to make an informed decision. However, when a decision is made, and a board member does not like the results, it is not appropriate to act in a manner that undermines the effectiveness of the organization.
- Sometimes board members are recruited because they have some technical expertise which could benefit the organization. This includes lawyers, accountants, consultants, etc. With Policy Governance, the board accepts the role of ownership of the organization. This responsibility means that they are not volunteer-helpers. Since they are on the board, and interested in the organization, the staff may ask them to help. If they agree to help they are not acting as board members, but as volunteers working for the staff.
- Sometimes both the staff and board members have accepted the culture that treats board members as managers; and therefore their individual commands must be obeyed. With Policy Governance, all that the staff owes to board members is courtesy. Only when the board-as-a-whole speaks does it command. Individual board members have no special powers or privileges.