Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Called to Serve: Coherence With Corrals

This is No. 12 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.

Max De Pree: "It is also important to formulate guidelines that bring coherence between the vision and mission of the organization and the way strategic planning is developed to reflect them.”

In a phone call this morning, a client and friend mentioned to me again how helpful the “corral” metaphor has been as he coaches CEOs and board members about the policy-making role of the board.

I began using the “corral” language after reading John Carver’s immense, 418-page treatise on Policy Governance®, Boards That Make a Difference: A New Design for Leadership in Nonprofit Organizations. (You may prefer his 26-page summary, Basic Principles of Policy Governance.) In his four-point approach to governance, Carver notes that “Board decisions should predominantly be policy decisions.” 

Max De Pree says boards must establish guidelines for the organization and the CEO. Carver labels them “executive limitations” (a corral). “The board establishes the boundaries of acceptability within which staff methods and activities can responsibly be left to staff. These limiting policies, therefore apply to staff means rather than to ends.”

You’ll find similar themes in another helpful resource, Good Governance for Nonprofits: Developing Principles and Policies for an Effective Board, by Frederic L. Laughlin and Robert C. Andringa. 

Whatever your view of Carver's approach, or other models of governance, you must agree that a “corral” is a brilliant way to describe policies, guidelines or boundaries.

The board sets the fences to the corral—thereby giving the CEO and senior team clarity on what needs, or does not need, board approval or even reporting. CEOs, however, must report when policy has been violated. “You should know that last Friday, I had to operate outside the corral due to the following extenuating circumstances.”  

When a board hears that, it has three options: 1) enlarge the corral and affirm the CEO for good judgment; or 2) caution the CEO that the fencing will remain intact and not to violate the policy again; or perhaps 3) make the corral smaller—tighten the policy.

De Pree says that board policies/guidelines must inspire fertility and fruitfulness. “While your board should insist on a high degree of focus, it should also be giving the kind of guidance that will result in the natural fecundity of a well-run operation.”

I confess: I looked it up at! “Fecund and its synonyms ‘fruitful’ and ‘fertile’ all mean producing or capable of producing offspring or fruit—literally or figuratively…noun…the quality of being fecund; capacity, especially in female animals, of producing young in great numbers…fruitfulness or fertility, as of the earth…the capacity of abundant production: fecundity of imagination.”

CEOs and board members of Christ-centered organizations understand the power of guidelines. We affirm and live by the clarity of the 10 commandments (the boundaries are crystal clear!). Yet we also live by grace and we do want policies/corrals that unleash creativity and fruitfulness to Kingdom ends. Thus, in our personal lives and in our governance lives, we need discernment to operate ethically, spiritually, and fruitfully.

BOARD EXERCISE. Divide into three or four teams at your next board meeting and invest 20 minutes on these questions: Is our policy document (corral) current and crystal clear? Does it result in the natural fecundity of a God-honoring organization?

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).

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