- Posted by Jannice Moore
- On September 30, 2020
- Board Development, Board Orientation, Policy Governance Implementation
Indulge me in a little nostalgia. Before COVID, I spent a lot of time in airplanes. I had the flight attendant announcements memorized: “In preparation for landing, please fasten your seatbelts, ensure your seat backs and table trays are in the upright and locked positions, and stow your carryon baggage safely. Please use caution when opening overhead bins, as articles may have shifted during flight.” On one flight, an attendant with a sense of humor changed the last sentence: “Please be careful when opening overhead bins. Shift happens.”
Indeed! I’ve seen “shift” happen to boards. They make a decision to improve their governance capabilities by implementing the Policy Governance® system. They invest valuable time and resources to do so and it works for them. They have policies in place that provide clear direction to the CEO about expected results. They have clear boundaries within which the CEO has freedom to determine the most effective means to achieve those results. They have a monitoring system to ensure the policies are followed. They now have time to spend in strategic thinking to ensure their organization remains relevant and produces value in the future.
Then down the road a couple of years, several board members complete their terms and are replaced by new members who aren’t familiar with Policy Governance. They begin to meddle in operational areas that have been delegated to the CEO. They persuade the board to create committees to “help” the CEO in those areas. Before too long, “shift” happens. One principle, and then another, gets watered down or ignored altogether. The board no longer has a clear system of governance; it has shifted back to the old, less effective way of governing.
Don’t let this happen to you! Don’t lose your history. Make a point of explaining to incoming board members the reasons your board decided to implement Policy Governance in the first place – why was it important to do so? What have been the benefits from having done so? Then be sure they receive a thorough orientation to the principles of the system, why it is important that they work together, and the practical ways in which your board applies them. Orient them as soon as possible after a new member joins the board. Even better, do it before they join. Then they won’t be in for any unexpected surprises, like thinking their job is to help the CEO. They will understand, even before coming on board, that governing is the responsibility, on behalf of the owners, to set organizational direction and protect the interests of the owners, and that your board has an effective system to fulfill this accountability. Stay on course. Don’t let shift happen.