I understand and, to some degree, sympathize with Mr. Crouse’s frustrations (Governance Models Often Flawed, Dec. 1, 2022). I also believe that some of his concerns are addressed by the Policy Governance® model.
Full disclosure: I am one of those governance consultants to whom Mr. Crouse refers. However, we specialize in Policy Governance.
Regarding the lack of accountability, a significant number of non-profit organizations do not have a “legal ownership” to whom they hold themselves accountable. However, when such a board adopts Policy Governance, one of its first steps is to identify its “moral ownership”. In other words, which group(s) of people does the board view as equivalent to shareholders in a for profit corporation?
Boards we work with are generally enthusiastic about the concept. They want to be responsible and to hold themselves accountable. Furthermore, these boards not only report to their “moral ownership,” they proactively reach out to better understand the diverse values of their ownership and base their decisions upon those values.
Mr. Crouse commented that: ‘Governance bodies are taught to ‘stay at the 30,000 foot level’ and that board members “are all too happy to take on the role of ‘easy street’, not penetrating and confronting what is believed to be hidden.”
“Noses in, fingers out,” is a common mantra among governance consultants. In other words, don’t micro-manage, but don’t ignore what needs further exploration. While the board is encouraged to set direction at a high-level, it is also accountable for operations on the ground.
A board can require any information it wants from management, except what the law puts off-limits (e.g., to protect the privacy of a hospital’s patients). There are legitimate reasons for meeting behind closed doors when the discussion is about matters that should be confidential as opposed to matters that a board simply wants to keep secret.
But there is a deficiency when a board thinks that oversight is just putting its nose in wherever it feels so inclined. As humans, we are driven by our own built-in biases. For example, the questions I ask of my tech security consultant are based upon my limited knowledge and experiences of IT. Eight board members drilling down in their different areas of interest, expertise, and experience not only absorb an extraordinary amount of time and resources, but still leave gaps in the organization’s field of risk.
In our consultancy, we believe the board should “get its arms around the organization, without getting its fingers in.” The board needs to comprehensively cover all of its concerns for the organization, even those it is not yet aware of. We use a unique structure of policies to clarify the board’s expectations for the whole of the operations.
But stating expectations is not enough. As quality management guru Edward Deming stated: “You can expect what you inspect.” Rigorous monitoring (inspection) is required to determine compliance with each of the board’s expectations. While logical and rigorous, effective monitoring is not intuitive. Board training is essential in that regard.
Board members generally desire to be truly responsible. However, governance is not management one step up. Instead, it is ownership one-step down: a different discipline which must be learned.
Richard Stringham, St. Albert