You may have heard the story of two men walking down the street who spied a little boy with a very dirty face. One turned to the other and said, “Look at that dirty child! It’s clear that soap doesn’t work.”
I am reminded of that story frequently when I read news articles referring to Policy Governance. Recently there was an article in The Columbus Dispatch. It made reference to the use of Policy Governance in a school board, describing it as follows: “ . . . “a management structure . . .that had the board take a hands-off approach to the school system’s day-to-day operations, that left the Superintendent with minimal oversight . . . helped create an environment where administrators felt free to manipulate data.” This is but one example of many I could site.
When you read articles like this it is easy to come to the conclusion that Policy Governance doesn’t work. However, there is a fallacy here similar to that of the men in my story. Jumping to the conclusion that soap doesn’t work, they didn’t ever check to see if it had been applied to the little boy’s face. Concluding that Policy Governance doesn’t work is a fallacy of the same nature. The writers of such articles – and unfortunately, many of the readers – did not stop to check if “Policy Governance” had actually been applied.
Policy Governance® is a system – ten principles deliberately designed to function together as an integrated whole. Just because a board says it is using Policy Governance doesn’t mean the model’s principles have actually been applied. A cursory reading of the statements in the article referenced above by anyone who knows what Policy Governance® really is clearly shows that it was NOT being used:
- “a management structure” – Policy Governance® is not about management at all – it’s about governance.
- “the board takes a hands-off approach to . . . day-to-day operations” – While a Policy Governance® board does not meddle in day-to-day management decisions, it does have “hands-on” key aspects of those operations. Specifically, it clearly specifies the results the organization is to produce, and it clearly specifies those means management may not use, because they are unethical or imprudent (create more than acceptable risk). Further, it holds the CEO accountable (see the next bullet).
- “left the Superintendent with minimal oversight” – in fact, the oversight in Policy Governance, when properly applied, is very rigorous. A series of board level policies relating to the expected results, and to the unacceptable means, are rigorously monitored, requiring the CEO to provide measures that will demonstrate compliance, and evidence of having achieved those measures.
- “create an environment where administrators felt free to manipulate data” – with proper monitoring, including the use of external audits and direct inspection by the board to confirm evidence of policy compliance, this is much less likely to occur than in less rigorous approaches.
The next time you read an article like this in the media, stop and ask yourself, “Was Policy Governance® actually APPLIED?” Don’t blame the soap for a dirty face, if the soap wasn’t actually used. Don’t blame Policy Governance for governance messes when it wasn’t actually used. Policy Governance, used as intended, as a complete system, DOES work! I’ve witnessed the results with hundreds of boards.