Board work can be frustrating. People serve on boards to help and they hope their contributions will be meaningful. But when the board as a group is ineffective, the disappointment individual members feel is unambiguous. This is too common an occurrence and more poignant because we know that governance is no more a mystery than other group activities. Boards can learn to lead effectively. For those boards that struggle yet aspire to improve, where to begin?
In an initial Clarity Consultation, we simply “start where you are”, or, in this case, where the board already is. “Start where you are” means looking non-judgmentally at what works and doesn’t work in current board practice. Knowing what doesn’t work well is a first step to finding something that works better. Progress begins with transparency and truth about what is.
“Start” also refers to a fresh start, being willing to learn about a new model of governance. The Governance Coach™ consultants are fully trained in Policy Governance®, a model that has proven effective for organizations of all shapes and sizes over the past 40 years. Our conversation with you might take the form of an introductory workshop; it might be a telephone conversation exploring where your board “is” in relation to where it would like to be. It might even begin with one or more board members completing our on-line tool, the Board Practices Profile and receiving written feedback from one of our consultants. Because one or more of these approaches will clarify the similarities and differences between your current board practice and the Policy Governance model, we call it the Clarity Consultation. The result is that you will understand where your board gets stuck and what drives board success.
Board members are often able to describe why their board struggles. Comments like these are typical:
- “We are in the weeds again.”
- “We go month to month reacting to things but we never get out in front.”
- “We meet around this table, but we’re somewhat isolated.”
- “So little time spent looking ahead. Shouldn’t we be more strategic?”
- “We just reviewed what the staff already did. Is that really our job?”
These statements express personal frustration but they also describe an underlying governance problem. Interestingly, if we explore each issue closely enough, it becomes a stepping-stone toward a solution. Let’s take a few examples:
“We are in the weeds again.”
This statement describes a board occupied with trivia, a common complaint lodged by both board members and CEO’s alike. Using the problem as a stepping-stone, in the Clarity Consultation we explore why some issues belong to the board while others belong to CEO and staff. What principles would help us to sort this out? Does the Policy Governance model shed light on the question? Yes it does, and in quite a bit of detail. The discussion will clarify the distinction between governance and management roles and help each group to reflect on its appropriate scope of work.
There are vanishingly few new board problems. If your board experiences it, the majority of others do as well. The Policy Governance model anticipates these challenges and addresses them all.
“We go from month to month reacting to things but we never get out in front.”
The problem identified here is that this board responds to current events rather than its own proactive governance agenda. All organizations have current events, but too few boards have an annual agenda plan. Again, the problem can be a stepping-stone toward the solution. If “getting out in front” means the board goes beyond current events to accomplish its broader job, there are initial steps we can discuss. First, the board can thoughtfully define its own job products (surely this should be a requirement for any board!). For example, one board product is creating policies that provide clear direction about organizational results to be achieved. Are there Policy Governance principles that clarify these critical job contributions? Yes, there are, and they are simple, elegant, and universally applicable. Once known, these job contributions can become the centerpiece of an annual board agenda. Having them on an annual agenda positions the board to stay on track and out in front, simply by performing according to plan.
“We meet around this table, but we’re somewhat isolated.”
This distressing situation is sometimes noticed by ownership and staff as well. It too is a potential stepping-stone, this time to increased connections outside the boardroom. But with whom should the board connect and to what end? Again, there are proven Policy Governance principles that can help guide the board in connecting to its ownership and constituencies, and to get rigorous feedback about organizational performance. Engaging with these initiatives leads the board out of the boardroom and into the conversations and enriched input it needs to govern effectively.
In these examples, identifying the problem suggests a way forward. Policy Governance was designed to offer principled solutions. What boards can remember is:
- Good governance can be learned, and
- Policy Governance was designed for your board too.
In the Clarity Consultation, the Governance Coach will help you reflect on current board practice and the Policy Governance model so you are in a position to make informed choices about your organization’s future.