Leading productivity expert David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, has coined a fascinating phrase: “Psychic RAM.” He argues that as individuals, when we try to keep our “to do” lists in our heads, we are tying up valuable RAM. Consequently, we have no creative thinking space available. His solution is to use a well-defined system of contextual lists to keep track of all our commitments to ourselves. Some of those lists get reviewed daily, some weekly, some monthly or even less frequently, but according to a cycle that will bring them to mind when we need them. (Full details are in his book, but for my purposes, that is a very quick summary.) The key points are (a) write it all down, (b) review it regularly at appropriate intervals, and (c) ensure it is comprehensive, so that you can trust it. When you do this, you will discover your stress level decreases and your creative capacity soars!
It is my contention that boards have a “collective psychic RAM.” Unfortunately, many boards have stuffed that RAM full of worries about the details of organizational operations. That severely limits their capacity, and time, for doing their real job: exercising strategic foresight and then setting clear direction for the organization, and protecting it from unacceptable actions and situations.
The Policy Governance® system offers an elegant solution.
- Write down all those operational concerns in clearly stated policies (in this system, known as “Executive Limitations”) that place limits related to prudence and ethics on the CEO’s operational choices.
- Create a schedule that ensures reports on compliance with those policies come to the board’s attention at appropriate times. Assessing these reports is known as monitoring.
- Ensure the policies are comprehensive. In the Policy Governance® system, policies are written in a structured manner, beginning with larger concepts and gradually refining to smaller concepts. This “policy architecture” ensures comprehensive coverage of all major areas, including not only the operational concerns a board may have, but also setting organizational results to be produced, and policies that guide the work of the board itself.
Do your board a favour. Learn how to free its psychic RAM from the usual worry list, resulting in board confidence that the organization is headed in the right direction and appropriately protected from unacceptable situations. Then the board can use its creative capacity to envision the potential future that the organization can help to create.