One frequently misunderstood Policy Governance® principle is the Board Holism (a.k.a. “One Voice”) principle, which states:
“3. Board Holism: The authority of the board is held and used as a body. The board speaks with one voice in that instructions are expressed by the board as a whole. Individual board members have no authority to instruct staff.”1
In other words, when the board provides instruction to the CEO, to a board committee or other delegatee, it expresses a singular direction reflecting the will of the board as a whole, and does not give multiple or conflicting directions.
If a board were to not use this principle, it would risk confusing the CEO (or delegatee) about what result or activity would demonstrate compliance with the board’s expectations, which in turn would diminish the board’s and CEO’s ability to be accountable.
Boards usually understand this principle at some level, but then often confuse matters when a board committee or officer changes or replaces the expectation originally set by the board as whole.
The key is that this principle relates to delegation and not to the board’s outward facing communications strategy. Any board using Policy Governance is free to choose to communicate to the public with one voice or not. In many cases, boards find it useful to adopt a communications strategy in which board members are aligned on key messages and/or one director (e.g., the Chair or Chief Governance Officer) is chosen to speak about board matters on behalf of the board as a whole.
Alternatively, individual directors could be free to share their opinions publicly, as long as they adhere to legal obligations and do not dishonor board decisions or “sabotage or disrupt fulfillment by others of board expectations.”2
The board should be deliberate in making this decision about its communications strategy, and have a clear policy statement that sets out the extent to which individual directors can express their views about board deliberations and decisions to the outside world.
In summary, boards should:
- Encourage the expression of a diversity of perspectives before making decisions;
- When delegating, communicate that direction with one voice (ideally in a written policy format);
- Decide how communications with the public or outside bodies about board matters will be handled (e.g., with one message or not, or with alignment on some issues and not on others, have a board spokesperson or not, etc.).
See also: Quick, What is Policy Governance Again?
and Top Ten Tips for Effective Board Meetings
1International Policy Governance Association in consultation with John and Miriam Carver, 2005-2007-2011.
2International Policy Governance Association, IPGA Policy Governance® Consistency Framework, July 2014.