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April 2, 2019

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Ted Hull

Policy Governance® has No Grandchildren

Recently I became involved in a conversation with the CEO of an organization of which I am one of the board members. The CEO has also served on other Policy Governance® boards. In the course of conversation he was asked why he thinks Policy Governance loses traction with many boards over time. I would love to take full credit for the observations below. However, I have borrowed the ideas from him.

Many organizations invest significant resources – including time, money and emotional energy – into the consideration, implementation and ongoing application of Policy Governance. All too often this investment loses its value. The use of the model devolves to a hybrid version of Policy Governance. In using the term “hybrid version of Policy Governance” let’s be clear that there is no such thing. Policy Governance is an internationally registered service mark of John Carver. The authoritative website for Policy Governance is www.carvergovernance.com. As such, organizations do not have the prerogative to create a model of Policy Governance in their own image. But I digress.

So why, in many cases, do the values of the Policy Governance model not extend beyond the first generation? Let me suggest three reasons:

1. Policy Governance is implemented by a fan and a group of passive followers

The idea to have a look at Policy Governance is often initiated by a fan or a follower. This individual may be the CEO of the organization, the Chair or just an enthusiast. The pitch is made to implement the model and the rest of the board kind of/sort of buys in. In these cases the proponent often finds himself or herself pushing the Policy Governance rock uphill. 

This, by the way, is one reason why any board considering Policy Governance should bring in a Policy Governance expert who is not tied to the organization and can provide a clear, informed and objective introduction. 

2.  Replacement board members aren’t educated about Policy Governance 

The most common reason why Policy Governance doesn’t maintain traction after the first generation is that new board members are never formally educated even at the highest level in the use of Policy Governance. If a board of nine individuals is educated about and owns the value of the model, things will typically go well. However as the board is replaced by new people who are not provided solid education about the model, buy-in to maintaining the model will become incrementally diluted, until the connection to the original vision is lost. 

This, by the way, is one reason why a Policy Governance board should insist on new board members being willing and available to be thoroughly educated about the principles of the model and their application. 

3. Great minds think alike

Boards are sometimes stacked with individuals who are either CEOs or strong number two’s in the organizations they work for. They are take-charge decision makers and visionaries. When they get together in a board meeting they love to make decisions or at least drive those decisions, rather than setting high level overall guidance for the organization. 

This, by the way, is one reason why the Policy Governance board should consider having individuals with different backgrounds and temperaments. It is also very helpful if it has a Policy Governance champion; someone who has a sufficient level of commitment and acumen to make sure the board stays on track.

Good Governance Requires an Investment

The effective use of Policy Governance requires an ongoing investment. Boards as a whole must be prepared to invest the financial resources into orienting new board members and individual board members must be willing to participate in that education. Even as potential board members are recruited they should have at least a high-level understanding of Policy Governance and what that will require of them in being effective board members. Never assume that Policy Governance will continue to be effective based on its own momentum. If the values of the model are not effectively passed on to the next generation of board members, by the third generation those values will be extinct.  Don’t lose your investment by allowing this to happen.

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