I recently had an old lilac tree removed from my yard and had someone come to grind out the main stump. Then I decided it would be a good place to create a new garden bed, but there was a lot of work to be done to prepare the bed. Since my approach to life is to focus on what I do well and am passionate about and hire someone else to do the other things – and I am not passionate about digging – I hired a young teenager to dig out the old clay-based soil so I could prepare a fresh bed.
He was very eager to make some money. I believe he expected this to be a “quick and easy” job – after all, there couldn’t be that much work in digging out a section of soil approximately 8 square feet and 2 feet deep! What he hadn’t bargained for was that its previous resident had been a lilac tree, and lilacs love to send out spreading “sucker” roots like tentacles. What he had anticipated as a quick fix turned out to require not just a spade, but an axe and some real elbow grease – and significantly more time than he had planned.
This experience reminded me of some boards I have known. They decide they would like to improve their performance by fixing a particular trouble spot. It is very tempting to look for the quick fix. Just dig out this little trouble spot for us and show us how to fix it, and we’ll be fine. Just show us how to evaluate the CEO more effectively than last year. Just help us with what this particular policy should say. Just show us how to deal with this renegade board member. Just . . .
The point they miss is that all the work of a board is connected – there is a network of underground roots, and suckers will keep popping up. Focusing on trying to fix one problem at a time is akin to playing Whac-a-Mole. In a little while, another problem will appear. How much better it would be to recognize that a systematic approach is needed to keep those suckers from sprouting.
That’s where Policy Governance® shines. Because it is a system, including ten principles that encompass all aspects of the board’s work, it provides a framework within which to addresses underlying issues that tend to pop up as problems. Yes, boards are made up of humans, so problems will still occur, but with a system in place, it is much easier to identify and address them before they are fully sprouted. Policy Governance principles permit a board to achieve clarity and simplicity, to focus on what’s really important. That’s not necessarily easy – it’s not a quick fix – but the results of that hard work will be akin to a well prepared garden bed, ready to produce real results on behalf of the people you serve.