Expert Coaching. Practical Resources.

April 3, 2018


Richard Stringham

Governance Inconsistencies? Bite your tongue!

Early in our relationship, my wife advised me that I wasn’t much fun when watching movies because I had a tendency to identify inconsistencies in the story line. If Marty travels back to the future after having made changes in the past that affect his family’s fortunes, why are they still living in the same house? As you can imagine these types of comments take away from the viewing enjoyment of others, so I learned to bite my tongue and keep my bewilderments to myself.

In my defence, the frustration others have had with inconsistencies has led to some significant discoveries over the centuries. Up until the 16th century there was a long-held belief that the Earth is at the centre of the universe with the sun, stars, and planets moving around the Earth. The problem was that the mathematics of predicting the movements of these celestial objects was challenging. From time to time planets would appear to go backward across the sky! The theory of the day was that the paths of planets included circles within circles with some planets having as many as seven of these sets of circles. It was a massively complicated model and, even then, the observations and math did not sufficiently align.

Along came Copernicus who turned everything on its head by asserting that the Earth revolved around the sun, not the other way around. A generation later Kepler showed that these orbits were elliptical which meant that the math consistently predicted orbits.

I’ve had similar frustrations with inconsistencies in some approaches to governance. For example, if boards and consultants agree that “the Board has only one employee” (i.e., the CEO), why do we so often see boards involved in hiring, firing, and/or appraising other senior management?

Here is another example. If the board is supposed to be the CEO’s boss, why are some executive committees making decisions regarding hiring, firing, evaluation, and/or compensation for the CEO? I’m not suggesting that executive committees or any other committees cannot be helpful in this regard, only that they should not have the authority to make those decisions.

For that matter, board committees that direct staff in doing work that belongs to the staff unit are similarly creating an inconsistent approach to delegation in the organization.

When inventing Policy Governance®, John Carver was determined that a model of governance should be both universal and internally consistent. Indeed, over my years of working with Policy Governance, I have marvelled at how well each of the 10 principles of Policy Governance integrates with the others without creating inconsistencies. To name a few; when the Board recognizes only one employee, it operates consistently with that concept. When the board creates a Board committee, it does not interfere with the CEO’s delegation to its staff. Board committees are not allowed to become decision centres in place of the Board.

My earlier days of consulting with more traditional approaches to governance required that I bite my tongue when it came to the inconsistencies. Nowadays, I work almost exclusively with the elegantly, simple Policy Governance system. There are no bite marks on my tongue…except when watching the odd movie!




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