Expert Coaching. Practical Resources.

May 8, 2018


Rose Mercier

Policy Governance® for the Generations

I coach an organization that, like many other organizations, is wondering how changing population demographics will affect them. They have been proactively trying to understand how their association will be relevant in the future to the various generations – Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y (Millennials), and Generation Z. Their Governance Committee recently spent several months learning about these generations in preparation for a presentation during a board workshop. After the presentation about each generation, the board reflected on the highlights of the presentation and then reflected on the possible implications for ownership linkage activities, Ends policies, Executive Limitations policies and Governance Process policies; they also reflected on possible impact on membership services – although the board is clear that the latter insights are for the consideration of their staff.

While the board members were debriefing each presentation, it occurred to me that my presentations about Policy Governance® and its benefits could be adapted to the distinguishing perspectives of various generations. Following are a few ideas about how to talk about the value and impact of Policy Governance to current or potential board members. (I am sure there are lots more.)

Baby Boomers (1946- 64)*

  • Experience and research shows that Baby Boomers are still among the largest percentage of volunteer board members and likely to be part of many boards who are considering or using Policy Governance. Learning how the principles of Policy Governance operate in an integral system offers Baby Boomers the opportunity for the continuing intellectual stimulation they value.
  • Emphasize the importance of board orientation, succession planning and ongoing development and the opportunity for Baby Boomers to use their experience on a board to mentor and teach new directors.
  • Reinforce the way in which Executive Limitations enable a board to put off limits staff activities and decisions that they consider unethical and imprudent, a consideration that may be important to a generation that is more risk averse than those that are following.

Generation X (1965-1985)

  • Gen Xers who value the ability to create impact for the greater good and on the longer term as well as achieve return on investment are likely to be attracted to a governance system that enables a board to ensure that the results the organization is producing are worth the investment being made.
  • Executive Limitations that enable the board to govern risk and put off limits actions or circumstances that are unsafe will reassure those of a generation which in concerned about managing risk.
  • Policy Governance produces efficiency in governing. Even though Policy Governance asks that a board establish a comprehensive set of policies, it produces a governing system that is efficient, a feature that is important to a generation that hates wasting time. Gen Xers are not interested in a board that makes and remakes decisions about operational items.

Millennials (1977-1994)

  • Learning how Policy Governance can be a powerful means through which a board can lead its organization toward making a difference in the world may appeal to the generation which is looking for future solutions.
  • A generation that is more risk tolerant and entrepreneurial will appreciate that boards can choose the level of detail in their policies and allow staff the space within which to be creative and take advantage of opportunities.
  • Because they value work-life balance, Millennials may be attracted to a governance system that is both effective and efficient so that as board members, their time is well-used and focused on adding value rather than being mired in details about yesterday.
  • A team-oriented generation that enjoys collaboration may also find connection with a governance system that asks a board to work together to find ‘one voice’ and express it in policies.

Generation Z (1995 -2012)

  • While it might be a while before a large number of Generation Z members are sitting on boards, it is nevertheless worthwhile to think about simplifying explanations of Policy Governance to appeal to the shorter attention span which characterizes this generation.
  • Developing Ends policies that reflect the distinct contribution that their organization should be making fits with the generation’s search for uniqueness.
  • Boards will need to emphasize governance means that are efficient, state-of-the-art, capitalize on the potential of technology if they want to retain board members from this generation. They are quick to “unfollow” when their expectations are not met.

The exciting realization that I take from that workshop and my later reflections is that Policy Governance offers benefits that fit with the perspectives of all four generations. It requires those who explain those benefits to consider how to tailor the concepts for the boards with which they are working.


*Dates are approximate, as there is no standardized definitions for when a generation begins and ends.




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