April 22, 2020

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Richard Stringham

Post-Covid 19 Governance and the New Norm

I think it’s fair to say that I’m not the only one wondering: “When will this pandemic be over so that we can return to normal?” Of course, there are two absurdities to that question: a) no-one knows when it will be over; and b) we won’t be returning to “normal;” instead we will be living the “new normal.” 

I’ve been somewhat transfixed on the “new normal,” wondering what it might be and paying attention to a wealth of media reports, including business journals, Ted Talks, McKinsey & Company, etc., that speculate on the world to come.  

Many of them are focused on how consumers and businesses will operate. Will supply chains become less dependent upon international connections and the vulnerability of those businesses downstream that can’t source their needed inputs in a pandemic? Will consumers’ shopping behaviour shift to such a dependence on online shopping that more bricks and mortar stores will disappear from the landscape? Will a larger proportion of the population work from home after the recovery and what would that mean to the longer-term need for office space, public transportation, road and bridge repairs, and fuel consumption, to name a few? 

As I’ve pointed out in a past article , if your board is using Policy Governance®, chances are that you have already addressed the immediate issues, particularly in regard to the operational means of achieving Ends. To fulfil its fiduciary duties, the board needs to ensure that operational plans are in place which are compliant with the board’s boundaries of prudence and ethics. 

Assuming your board has that in hand, now is the time for the board to step up and do the value-added work it should be doing: ensuring that its Ends address the future needs of those it intends to benefit. 

For a great many non-profit boards, there will be new social challenges that the organization could address. For example: 

  • Will there be members of your community who are traumatized by the pandemic even after a vaccine is available? 
  • Racial hatred is already finding a new excuse in some areas as those of Asian heritage become victims due to misplaced association with the pandemic. Will that condition continue as part of the “new normal”?  
  • Food insecurity has taken a further hit during the pandemic. What will it look like afterward? 

The easiest part will be to determine the means. The more difficult challenge will be determining the difference that your organization should create. Instead of focusing on how to educate students in the event of a resurgent pandemic wave (a means issue that should be addressed by the school board’s superintendent), the board should concern itself with the needs of today’s students graduating into a post-COVID 19 world. 

Of course, just as we are challenged to know when this will end, we are just as challenged to know what the new norms will be. That is not to say that the board should be expected to have a crystal ball; neither should its members put their collective heads in the sand and hope for the best.  

Instead, the board should use the tools that futurists have developed to broaden and deepen its exploration of plausible futures. Brainstorming possible futures is better than not collectively thinking about those futures. However, there are better, more powerful tools for futures thinking.  

To get you started, I suggest that you check out our June 2017 newsletter:  Imagining Futures to Expand Horizons. 

Remember, the board’s greatest value added is the creation of a set of Ends policies that create a worthwhile future! 

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