Expert Coaching. Practical Resources.

June 26, 2018


Richard Stringham

You Don’t Need to Control Something to Make a Difference

Board members and CEOs who work with Policy Governance® should be familiar with the concept of Ends policies. These are powerful statements of what difference the organization is to produce in the world, for whom, and for what worth. This concept is distinct from what the organization does to make that difference.

Although the Board will not tell the CEO how to achieve its Ends, it will hold the CEO accountable for achievement of a reasonable interpretation of each of the Ends policies. Accountability is a measurement of how well the intended results were achieved rather than a report of the activities taken to achieve results.

Consequently, because the Board will hold the CEO accountable for some reasonable level of results achievement, the Board needs to be careful that its Ends statements are indeed achievable. At this point, CEOs can wipe their brows, relieved to know that they should not be charged with saving the world (except perhaps, for the Secretary General of the UN). Nonetheless, they are accountable for making a difference in some small part of the world.

And here is where both Boards and CEOs can get a bit nervous. Is it appropriate for the Board to expect the CEO to change the attitudes of people in the community regarding recycling? Can the Board reasonably expect the CEO to change government policies? Is it reasonable to require that the CEO reduce people’s consumption of sugar?

The CEO has no control over the audience in any of these cases. How then, can the Board hold the CEO accountable for anything other than trying!?

Consider the substantial resources that are spent daily trying to influence people’s consumption behaviour. Advertising is big business and if it did not have some impact by now it would have disappeared from the landscape. A client is likely concerned for the cost benefit of advertising, and savvy clients would not be expected to continue to spend resources if advertising is not making a difference.

Paid lobbyists are paid because they are expected to make a difference in the minds of the people who set public policy. Regardless of whether you favour or are opposed to lobbying, most all of us recognize that effective lobbying makes a difference in legislators’ decisions.

If yours is not an organization with resources to hire advertisers or lobbyists, then pick up the book, Influencer: The Power to Change Anything by Patterson, Grenny, Maxfield, McMillan, and Switzler. The authors portray stories of several incredible achievements of changing people’s behaviours, not just their perspectives. In addition to the anecdotes, the authors provide a framework for influencing behaviour, whether for an individual or a large population.

Which takes us back to the question of what is reasonable, especially with limited resources? It would not be reasonable to expect the CEO to change the behaviour of everyone in the target community regarding recycling or consumption of sugar. But is it reasonable for the CEO to “move the needle”? Similarly, the CEO shouldn’t ethically have control over the votes of legislators. However, she should be able to create an increased awareness of the need for legislative change and perhaps some attitude shifts in the minds of legislators.

At the end of the day, the CEO may not have control. However, one doesn’t need control to be able to affect the results.




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