Policy Governance®, an integrated Board leadership paradigm created by Dr. John Carver, is a groundbreaking model of governance designed to empower Boards of Directors to fulfill their obligation of accountability for the organizations they govern. As a generic system, it is applicable to the governing body of any enterprise. The model enables the Board to focus on the larger issues, to delegate with clarity, to control management’s job without meddling, to rigorously evaluate the accomplishment of the organization; to truly lead its organization.
In contrast to the approaches typically used by Boards, Policy Governance separates issues of organizational purpose (ENDS) from all other organizational issues (MEANS), placing primary importance on those Ends. Policy Governance Boards demand accomplishment of purpose, and only limit the staff’s available means to those which do not violate the Board’s pre-stated standards of prudence and ethics.
The Board’s own Means are defined in accordance with the roles of the Board, its members, the Chair and other Officers, and any committees the board may need to help it accomplish its job. This includes the necessity to “speak with one voice”. Dissent is expressed during the discussion preceding a vote. Once taken, the Board’s decisions may subsequently be changed, but are never to be undermined. The Board’s expectations for itself also set out self-imposed rules regarding the delegation of authority to the staff and the method by which Board-stated criteria will be used for evaluation. Policy Governance boards delegate with care. There is no confusion about who is responsible to the Board or for what Board expectations they are responsible. Double delegation (for example, to a board committee as well as to the CEO) is eliminated. Furthermore, Boards that decide to utilize a CEO function are able to hold this one position exclusively accountable.
Evaluation, with such carefully stated expectations, is nothing more than seeking an answer to the question, “Have our expectations been met?” The Board, having clarified its expectations, can assess performance in that light. This focused approach reduces the mountains of paperwork Boards often feel obliged to review. Moreover, those Boards which worry that they are only furnished the data management wants to give them find that, in stating their expectations and demanding a relevant and credible accounting of performance, they have effectively taken over control of their major information needs. Their staff no longer has to read their minds.
Policy Governance is a radical and effective change in the way Boards conceive of and do their job. It allows greater accountability. Board leadership isn’t just rhetoric. It’s a reality.
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