Expert Coaching. Practical Resources.

November 21, 2017

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Joseph Inskeep

2 FOCUS (or Not 2 Focus)

Driving a car responsibly requires that we keep our focus in at least two arenas: one near at hand and the other more distant. Near at hand we must negotiate a complex, changing environment of pedestrians, traffic and potentially dicey road conditions. Lose our attention here and we can end up in the ditch or worse. At the same time there are important, though less immediate, matters we can’t lose track of related to destination and route.  Getting lax or making poor choices here won’t cause a wreck, but could get us abjectly lost. These are both critical and distinct areas of attention, and we handle each of them successfully (or not) every time we are out in the car.

Boards have two arenas they must keep in focus as well. One, the current meeting, is near at hand. What should the board pay attention to NOW? The other is longer-range, essentially a map that lays out the one, two or three year cycle of work that keeps the board and its organization on track and on time. How will a board schedule the flow of that work? Like good drivers, effective boards will train their focus on both arenas.

When a board fully understands what effective governance should produce for its owners and its organization, it will also know the work it must do in these two arenas.  Policy Governance® boards know their job is governance, not management. The core job contributions of governance are linkage with ownership, informed policy decisions, and organizational monitoring. In order to govern well, a board must do these three well.

But how will a board keep these in focus? There is a tool for that: the meeting agenda. The meeting agenda is the vehicle for deciding which issues are brought to the board’s attention at any given point in time.  Using it properly ensures the board focuses on what it should, and avoids sidetracking into areas it shouldn’t.

But where does the meeting agenda come from?  That’s where the agenda cycle comes in.  Taking a longer-range look at the arena of focus for the next several years allows the board to map the flow of future work centered on the board’s core job contributions: linkage, policy development and monitoring.  For example, linkage with owners, education the board needs in order to develop sound policies that provide leadership into the future, regular review of policy content, and monitoring for compliance with policies can be scheduled over a multi-year cycle.

Using both a meeting agenda and a well-developed agenda cycle ensures that any individual meeting agenda reflects its share of the longer-term agenda. By using them both, boards stay on track in both the current and longer-term arenas, and stand a much better chance of excelling at the job of governance while avoiding inappropriate forays into operations.

At The Governance Coach™, we work with our clients to develop robust agenda cycles.  We also have webinars for board chairs and board supporting staff explaining the process in depth.

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