Reasons to Use Policy Governance
Thirty years ago, Dr. Henry C. King, then Curator of the McLaughlin Planetarium at the Royal Ontario Museum, said to me (Robert Ballantyne), "Robert, what you need to know about boards is that they are like the gods on Mount Olympus: very powerful, and very trivial."
Having sat on numerous boards, and presided over several, I have discovered what he meant by "trivial" and "powerful." In many organizations, the most dysfunctional part of the organization is the board. The members have the authority, but they do not know how to use it or what it is for. Even people who are successful in their own career may seem to flounder while serving on a community board. Since the seats on non-profit boards are unpaid positions, there seems to be the assumption that there needs to be no training for the job. Sometimes this assembly presides over a corporation that has a profound impact on its community and an organization with a budget in the millions of dollars. Shouldn't they learn to govern with real integrity?
When things have worked well, it is usually because the personalities involved were determined to make it work and they were lucky. Fortunately, this is frequently the case.
Over the past couple of decades there have been wonderful developments in management. Managers seem eager to implement these new techniques. Yet, our boards are mired in tradition.
Many of us have discovered that Policy Governance provides a reason and a method for the board to function efficiently and effectively. It requires learning new skills and the discipline to govern as a fiduciary.
Some reasons to consider Policy Governance:
- Board members are clear about their role, and their contribution to the organization and the community.
- The Board's work ensures that the community receives real value in return for the cost of the organization.
- The Board is confident that its leadership is real, not ceremonial.
- The organization is accountable for the required results, not just for effort.
- There is a rational separation of board and management roles. The Board becomes the owner-representative, not a part-time dilettante manager.
- The CEO's responsibility is clarified, making evaluation both fairer and more rigorous.
- The Board stops trying to keep up with management, and can focus on vision and leadership. This eliminates trivia and incomprehensible reports from meetings. The Board can lead without encroaching on proper management prerogatives.
- It ends the dilemma of Boards choosing to either rubber stamp management decisions, or demand countless reports so as to second-guess management.