Expert Coaching. Practical Resources.

July 22, 2021

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Jeffery Schau

If it Was Easy, Everyone Would Do It!

Policy Governance® is a model of governance based on a set of integrated principles. When a board consistently applies these principles, the organization is positioned for incredible impact. The hope of what could be is easy to grasp. When a board evaluating how it governs explores the model, it may ask the question, “If this is so great, why don’t all boards use it?”  The question is worthy of exploration before attempting to adopt this model. By doing so, a board can identify and overcome one of the biggest challenges to implementing Policy Governance – successfully navigating the gap from what is to what could be.

The Gap

When I was first introduced to Policy Governance I was awestruck by its potential. I had fresh experiences with boards that had left me never wanting to be on a board again. I thought, “If that is what being on a board is like, I’ll pass, thank you very much.” But then I saw what could be. As I studied Policy Governance I looked back and saw how those previous board experiences could have been completely different if the boards had been using the model. I had a new realization of what was and what could be.

Boards looking for a better way of governing may experience a similar reaction. They too will see the hope of what could be and say, “Let’s do this!” Comparison of what is and what could be suggests the change is a worthy endeavor. However, change is not instantaneous. The gap between no light and light is often the flip of a light switch. The gap between a non-Policy Governance board to a Policy Governance board is much larger. To successfully navigate it, the board needs to understand that gap and have a plan to cross it if they want to avoid the pit of despair.

Excitement to Discouragement

With my newfound excitement for what Policy Governance could offer, I dove into exploring the gap. I wanted to know what it would take to implement this “magic bullet” that would solve the problem with boards. Conceptually the model and its principles were simple, but as I dug deeper, I became discouraged. There are many policies to create with strict principles around wording and format to be consistent with the model. Add to that reaching agreement with several other board members for each policy. The challenges were adding up and navigating the gap was going to be daunting.

For boards exploring Policy Governance, this is a very real experience. The initial excitement of Policy Governance may have them diving into some books and beginning an implementation plan. As they start working on their policy manual, debates and confusion may arise. What should we include? How do we word this? Can’t we try…? And the list goes on. The unprepared board will often flounder here, and discouragement leads to frustration, renouncing the model and a desire to return to the familiar, even though it has been proven ineffective.

Here are two key strategies to avoid this.

1. Keep Moving Forward

Discouragement can easily lead to inaction. If a board is unable to see the complete path from start to finish, the tendency may be to not bother. Enter ‘GETMO’ – an antidote to discouragement. It stands for Good Enough To Move On. This phrase is a reminder that a board doesn’t need to have all the answers to move forward. The key is having a direction and the next steps to move ahead. Not all the details, just enough to move on.

When a board is implementing Policy Governance, GETMO is a great phrase to keep in the back pocket. If a board keeps wrestling with policies until the wording is perfect, it generates fatigue and eventually burnout ensues. Before this happens, someone needs to ask the question, “Is this GETMO?” Has the policy reached a point where it is good enough for now?

There are two key parts to asking that question. First, asking it at the right time. When the board reaches a point where no new ideas are forthcoming, ask the question. If the board keeps circling the drain, it is time to pull the plug and move on. Secondly, the policies are not intended to be set in stone. Through regular policy review, the board continually assesses and refines the policies as needed.

2. Use Qualified Help

As a board implements Policy Governance, the GETMO question will help keep it moving forward. However, this strategy contains an inherent problem. When used casually, or without adequate understanding, it can lead to mediocrity. Consider novice construction workers building a bridge on a hot day. Exhaustion sets in as they install all the supports for the bridge. Eventually one of them says, “I think this is good enough to move on.” Others, worn out by the sun and hard work, agree. So, they move on to some easier tasks, failing to return and finish the structural supports. You can guess how this story ends.

For some boards, their attempt to implement Policy Governance can end with a fate similar to the bridge. Shortcuts born out of a lack of experience result in undermining the model. Thus, they fail to experience all that Policy Governance has to offer and may put the organization at risk.

Now imagine what it would be like if the construction crew had a skilled engineer keeping a watchful eye on their work, a guide to point them in the right direction. Someone who could see risks they would otherwise be unaware of. Similarly, boards can benefit from the experience brought by a qualified governance consultant. Their experience helps boards navigate the gap that leads to the benefits Policy Governance has to offer.

Bridge the Gap

There is a better future for your board on the other side of the gap. One of governance excellence and organizational success. As you implement Policy Governance, there will be challenges. There are decisions to be made while treading unfamiliar territory. These can slow you down or even cause you to turn around, going back to the old way of doing things. However, by combining GETMO with the aid of a Governance Coach consultant your board will bridge the gap more quickly, with less frustration, and with greater confidence and success.

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