Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Policy: The Board’s Chief Occupation

Not everyone is a “policy governance” zealot—and I’ve been in board consultations where just the mention of those two words will cause board members to feign illness (or worse).

Policy Governance Guru John Carver writes in his book, Boards That Make a Difference, “Governing by policy means governing out of policy in the sense that no board activity takes place without reference to policies. Most resolutions in board meetings will be motions to amend the policy structure in some way. Consequently, policy development is not an occasional board chore but its chief occupation.”

Frankly, few boards would see their “chief occupation” as policy development—but three board conversations just this week have reminded me that we waste a lot of time when the policy is unclear. And unclear policy likely means that our ministry outcomes will be fuzzy—and our kingdom work will be shoddy. “Ineffective governance” in Christ-centered organizations ought to be an oxymoron.

One CEO asked me to facilitate a board retreat to address the board’s proper role in strategic planning. (They are not yet all on the same page.)

Another board member had received a “constructive criticism” letter from an unhappy customer who wanted him to forward the email to every board member. I referred him to an existing policy regarding who can speak for the organization. We also talked about the difference between staff work and board work, and various policies now buried and forgotten in ten-year-old minutes.

Another CEO wanted clarification on the board’s role versus the CEO’s role in creating and casting the vision. No conflict yet, just confusion.

Had you listened in on my calls, I would have sounded like a broken record. (Oops—that’s an outdated term, but “broken MP3” doesn’t work either.)

An effective “Board Policies Manual” (BPM) would address all three of these questions.  And a good BPM is always a work in progress, designed to be amended at almost every board meeting; always available to every board member at every meeting (and/or posted on their iPads); and—I agree with Carver on this one—is the chief work of the board.

Question: At the beginning and end of each board agenda item, are you asking the key question: Is our policy on this issue current and clear, or does it need to be amended?

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