For more detail on these steps, get a free copy of our Quick Guide to Strategic Planning, Policy Governance-style, and contact us about our online board education program, the Board EXCELerator.
If your board is using Policy Governance principles, use this short video to explain to others the “why” of Policy Governance.
Both this video and this set of Key Messages for Policy Governance Boards are designed to help your board communicate with the ownership and attract new people to your board and organization.
To learn more about what Policy Governance is and how it works, take the Board EXCELerator, our online board education program.
Does your board struggle with communicating effectively as a group? We can help with that. Check out this Key Messages document.
Your board is in the communications business. To effectively lead organizations, boards have to listen to the people they serve. They need to know what questions to ask, and how to reach people willing to answer these questions.
Let’s Avoid a Failure to Communicate
While being active listeners is a big part of the board’s job, the other part is being able to communicate back to the people to whom the board is accountable. This is exclusively a board function, and cannot be delegated to anyone else.
What makes this function so challenging is that each board is a group authority comprised of individuals who have their own ideas, perspectives, and ways of describing things.
We know that diversity of opinion prior to making decisions is valuable and necessary. After decisions have been made, however, most boards want to be able to clearly explain their decisions without sounding muddled, divided, or ineffective.
That’s where having key messages comes in handy, especially if more than one director will be speaking publicly in their capacity as a board member.
Policy … What?
Communicating about the board’s decision to use Policy Governance (a.k.a., “the Carver model,”) is especially challenging. First, board members need a common understanding of what Policy Governance is, is not, and how it works.
That, however, is usually not enough, since boards cannot expect key stakeholders or members of the public to be equally well-versed about what Policy Governance is. If you try to describe Policy Governance using Policy Governance terminology, you risk losing and confusing people, when the real goal is engaging and attracting people.
How to express the “Why” of Policy Governance
To help boards overcome these challenges, we offer a set of Key Messages for Policy Governance Boards. This one-page download provides five reasons for using Policy Governance, with two explanatory bullet points for each. With these key messages in hand, every board member can confidently express the “why” of Policy Governance.
Of course, we only recommend using these key messages if your board has been fully trained and is applying Policy Governance principles. To find out more about Brown Dog Consulting’s board education and coaching services, including suggestions on how to customize these key messages for your board, please set up a call with us here.
Looking for board education topics or ideas? Check out this video featuring John Carver being interviewed by Larry Spears about Servant Leadership and its connections with Policy Governance.
Questions explored in this interview revolve around the board’s role in providing foresight, overcoming weaknesses, and the importance of the board’s investment in listening.
One way for your board to benefit from the insights shared in this video would be to schedule a conversation about Servant Leadership and Policy Governance on the next board meeting agenda, and have each board member watch the video on their own in preparation for the meeting.
The board conversation could include questions such as:
- What did you notice about this video?
- Which statements or ideas stood out for you?
- What previous situations or conversations did you find yourself reflecting upon when you watched this video?
- Did the insights expressed in this video make you think about anything we should have done differently in the past?
- Which ideas in this video are most relevant or important for us?
- Are there any actions or decisions we should make as a group, further to this conversation?
Click here to download an unofficial transcript (.pdf) of this interview.
I’ve seen and heard about boards of directors that, when faced with adversity, veered away from rather than towards the system they had in place — Policy Governance — to address the problem.
I’m reminded of the scene at the end of the Wizard of Oz when Glinda, the Good Witch, tells Dorothy that she had always had the power to click her heels together to go home. Similarly, Policy Governance boards have immense power and practical tools that they should remember to apply.
Yes, the job of being a board member is difficult, and that will always be the case. But when boards have clear policies in place, are monitoring the accomplishment of those policies, and using the whole set of principles that Policy Governance provides, they should be able to identify and resolve problems much more expeditiously than boards that are not so well-equipped.
This article by Susan Mogensen appears in Board Leadership Number 164, July-August 2019. Board Leadership is published by Wiley Subscription Services, a Wiley Company. For more information and to subscribe, visit wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/bl.
For those feeling that democracy as we have known it is under serious threat, or who yearn for vast improvements in how our democratic institutions work, know this: there is hope. Hope for creating a new and improved kind of democracy does not necessarily emanate from expectations around what might be accomplished via quick or dramatic changes to the “top” of our systems ⏤ e.g., new leadership, or constitutional changes ⏤ but rather from the evolution of good governance, leadership, and decision-making processes that are “bubbling up” from lower-level governing bodies. Local school boards, chambers of commerce, library boards, municipal councils and the like, are venues for meaningful democratic change that everyone can observe, access, and influence right now.
People are usually quick to react when corruption, injustice, and outrageous governance dysfunction rear their ugly heads, but often revert to a pattern of blaming people rather than rectifying the underlying systems and governance principles that permit (if not encourage) the festering blameworthy behaviours in the first place.
Rescuing democracy from the throes of corruption and decline, it’s key to be aware of a major contributing cause: apathy, and more specifically, the lack of general interest in governance processes. A recent article in Slate notes that, “There’s nothing Americans like less than detail-oriented bureaucracy. … there’s a lamentable tendency to see procedural violations as dull or unimportant.”1 Based on multiple variables across western democracies, Wikipedia notes apathy is on the rise: “… voter turnout has been steadily declining in the established democracies…. [O]ther forms of political participation have also declined, such as voluntary participation in political parties and the attendance of observers at town meetings. The decline in voting has also accompanied a general decline in civic participation, such as church attendance, membership in professional, fraternal, and student societies, youth groups, and parent-teacher associations.”2
The complacency challenge is real. People are usually quick to react when corruption, injustice, and outrageous governance dysfunction rear their ugly heads, but often revert to a pattern of blaming people rather than rectifying the underlying systems and governance principles that permit (if not encourage) the festering blameworthy behaviours in the first place.
Luckily, we do not suffer from a lack of knowledge, skills, and examples of how good governance ⏤ and by extension, more highly functioning public institutions ⏤ can work. Readers of Board Leadership over the years have witnessed, engendered, and participated in positive and meaningful governance changes within multiple types of governing bodies and organizations around the world. We know what is possible.
Of course, having knowledge and a vision is one thing; making it happen is another. It’s easy to despair when the vision is so clear, while achievement seems so elusive. As it often is for the greatest challenges people face, the solution is not to wait for one big miraculous event, but rather to undertake and habituate small, incremental changes over time. As Katie Kacvinsky wrote, (and many others, in multiple ways), “You need to be content with small steps. That’s all life is. Small steps that you take every day so when you look back down the road it all adds up and you know you covered some distance.”
Walter Shaub, former director of the United States Office of Government Ethics, recently made a similar point with respect to the importance of making small changes to improve democracy, tweeting, “I’ve thoroughly lost patience with Twitter Demoralizers posting sarcastic remarks asking what good minor actions do. While they’re waiting for the magic perfect action and dreaming of The Big Rock Candy Mountain, you’re taking small actions that build critically needed momentum.”3
Having experience specifically with board leadership and group facilitation in general, and Policy Governance® principles in particular, gives one a somewhat different but immensely valuable perspective on the challenges to good governance, and the requisite solutions. Better yet, boards today ⏤ particularly publicly elected boards ⏤ can use these tips and techniques now, thereby modelling what is possible when good governance and leadership practices are applied. The three suggestions for incremental governance improvements which follow are informed by theory and experience, and their application within the arena of publicly elected boards might cause the most rapid normalization of good governance processes that we can expect.
- Transform the Town Hall Meeting
Wikipedia notes that town hall meetings “can be traced back to the colonial era of the United States and to the 19th century in Australia.”4 While the intention of holding public events that allow some form of connection with political representatives is a good one, town hall meetings today have a tendency to become polarizing, acrimonious, and unproductive.
A typical town hall meeting today will include a presentation by the elected official(s), followed by a question-and-answer period with those in attendance. At a minimum, this format allows the representative(s) to share information and to be seen to be listening to the people he/she represents. In many cases, no doubt people feel better for having had their say, and elected representatives gain a greater appreciation for the issues on people’s minds.
At worst, the town hall format is a polarizing one, starting with the physical setup of the room with the representative up on a stage, facing the people seated in rows. During the question-and-answer period, attendees usually line up behind microphones, asking the representative one question at a time. The effect of televising or video recording these meetings can serve to encourage the boldest, angriest questions, creating a greater likelihood that responses are defensive and “stick to the script.”
The alternative is to create a much more productive public forum which engages people in dialogue with the representative and with each other. The field of facilitation overflows with processes and ideas on how to design meetings that improve information flow, develop understanding, enable sound decision-making, and create buy-in. To start, presentations can be streamlined, and circulated in advance or in writing. People can be seated comfortably at round tables, and guided by clear questions designed to elicit their values, ideas, and perspectives on key issues. Representatives can also take on more of a listening and facilitating role, always taking care to conclude each meeting with a clear action list.
2. Engage with People as Owners (rather than as Customers)
In Policy Governance, the emphasis for governing bodies is to root their authority in the moral/legal ownership, and draw input from this set of people on what the Ends (benefits, for whom, at what worth) should be. This foundational principle distinguishes the Policy Governance approach from practically all, if not all, other conceptions of governance, and requires boards to engage with owners on a level at which most people are unaccustomed.
Public life and commercial activities offer many examples of “stakeholder consultations,” and customer satisfaction kinds of questions. While obtaining this type of feedback is useful and, indeed, necessary, the type of consultation that people in governing positions must employ revolves around strategic, long-term, outward-looking questions, and those that drive at values and the criteria for making more specific decisions. Boards need to know what difference in the world their respective organizations must strive to create; how should which people benefit; are some benefits more important or have more worth than others; and so on. In a municipal setting, for example, what is most important: do people want the city to be safe? naturally beautiful and clean? thriving economically? culturally diverse and dynamic? How would the people rank the importance of these attributes?
Asking these types of questions ⏤ which require more in terms of conversation and dialogue with owners than do customer-level questions ⏤ helps to elevate public discourse, develops understanding between people, mitigates against polarizing exchanges, and provides meaningful value back to those with governing authority.
3. Inform, Educate, and Involve the People
Lastly, governing bodies must do more within their spheres of influence to inform, educate, and involve the people. The job of governing is not easy, but it does not need to appear so complex or boring that people don’t want to participate. Basic steps that many boards take already (required by law, or not) include hosting open meetings, posting relevant meeting and decision information online, and inviting public comment either during or between meetings.
Additional steps that boards and councils can take to create more engagement include inviting public meeting attendees to evaluate meetings based on markers of good governance processes. For example, did the board listen to or incorporate public input? Did Council members listen to and respect each other? Did board members demonstrate appropriate meeting decorum? Was there evidence of results or outcomes being achieved?
As people’s awareness of what good governance looks like improves over time, boards will ultimately raise expectations around what higher-level public institutions should be able to achieve, and increase the size and depth of the pool of people motivated and qualified to run for public office and board leadership positions of all kinds.
It has been said that to save democracy, we must change it. As microcosms of larger, public institutions, boards of directors are already contributing to meaningful changes in expectations and processes. Step by step, day by day, all of us can continue to apply good governance principles and practices to build a better world.
1Lili Loofbourow, “The GOP Has Its Final Anti-Abortion Victory in Sight,” Slate, May 14, 2019. https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2019/05/alabama-georgia-abortion-ban-supreme-court.html.
2Wikipedia. Voter Turnout. 2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voter_turnout (accessed May 20, 2019).
3Shaub, Walter (@waltshaub). “I’ve thoroughly lost patience with Twitter Demoralizers posting sarcastic remarks asking what good minor actions do. While they’re waiting for the magic perfect action and dreaming of The Big Rock Candy Mountain, you’re taking small actions that build critically needed momentum.” May 19, 2019, 1:51 pm.
4Wikipedia. Town hall meeting. 2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Town_hall_meeting (accessed May 20, 2019).
When organizations have a board member serving as Treasurer, significant dysfunction can emerge in the relationship between the board and the CEO. On one hand, the board has delegated the accomplishment of results within certain boundaries to the CEO, and on the other hand, the Treasurer is expected to oversee, manage, and/or question any/all operational decisions made regarding financial matters.
In other words, both the CEO and the Treasurer are each given the illusion that they are accountable for sound financial management, with the board as a whole often acting like an arbiter between the two.
Policy Governance principles clarify governance and management roles with respect to all decisions, including financial ones. In short, the board sets out the criteria for prudent and ethical financial planning, activities, asset protection, board expenses, the overall worth of the results achieved, and possibly more. The CEO follows these criteria, and regularly provides the board with evidence of compliance with a reasonable interpretation of these criteria.
For answers to common questions about this topic, download and share this Financial Management FAQ with your board and staff members, or take our Board EXCELerator online course to learn how to make Policy Governance principles clarify roles and benefit your organization.
See also: Board Policy Example – Treasurer’s Role
About two years ago, a very insightful client of ours suggested we make the ‘flipped classroom’ concept available for Policy Governance orientation.
According to Wikipedia, “a flipped classroom is an instructional strategy and type of blended learning that reverses the traditional learning environment by delivering instructional content, often online, outside of the classroom. It moves activities … into the classroom.”1
When so many boards are pressed for time and resources for high quality training, we took this suggestion to heart. Brown Dog Consulting is now happy to offer clients an innovative new online learning program that orients board and staff members in the theory and practice of Policy Governance.
Govern With Confidence: 10 Key Principles for Effective Board Leadership (short title – Board EXCELerator) delivers all of the core content necessary to understand what Policy Governance is, and how to benefit from applying its 10 principles. Participants are guided through all 10 principles via eight course modules featuring audio clips, short videos, illustrated slides, and quick quizzes to confirm that key points are understood every step of the way.
The course also includes discussion guides that boards can use to stimulate group conversation during board meetings, plus practical application tips and one-on-one coaching for each course participant.
Boards can use this course to orient new board or staff members, to refresh memories of Policy Governance training or books read in the past, to get all board members on the same page with respect to the application of Policy Governance principles, and to prepare board members before hosting a facilitated board retreat. When all board and staff members understand Policy Governance principles before attending a face-to-face workshop, participants can delve more deeply into important issues and perform at a much more advanced level.
For more information about this innovative new way to save board meeting time and resources, and to accelerate your board’s performance, please connect with us and we’ll get the ball rolling!