One of my favorite pieces of literature is Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. At one point in the story, Alice has an exchange with the Cheshire Cat that goes like this:
Alice: “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
Cheshire Cat: “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
Alice: “I don’t much care where–” said Alice.
Cat: “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen boards in this situation where it is fairly evident in the board’s agenda that there is a lack of focus on an end goal. Many boards begin their meetings with these three things:
- Reading the minutes
- Discussing old business that wasn’t attended to at the last meeting(s)
- Business arising from the minutes
By the time these items are addressed, the majority of time allocated for the meeting has passed. It is only at that time that the board turns its attention to New Business.
Add to this that many boards are composed of dedicated volunteers who only have time available in the evenings to meet. By the time any new business is attended to, exhaustion has crept in and stolen the energy and focus necessary to create the best direction for the organization. Unfortunately, the board has spent its energy in looking backward – at the past
Consider instead a different approach. Craft your board’s agenda so that the most important items are at the beginning of the meeting when everyone is fresh. The most important work of a board is to determine the results that the organization should create, for whom and what it is worth to create those results. In the Policy Governance® system, these are called Ends. Put Ends-related work at the beginning of every meeting. Spend your energy looking forward – to the future.
As you create this kind of agenda, go one step further. Create an agenda cycle that determines, on an annual basis, what items will appear at each meeting so that you can be deliberate about what you need to decide by when, in order to direct the organization to achieve what it should.
We have a helpful resource that might guide your work in this regard: Future Focused Agendas. It is a practical guide to focusing a board on the future direction of the organization, thus maximizing the potential of the Policy Governance® model.
If you have a clear understanding of your destination, your board and the organization are far more likely to find the right path to take you there.