Issue No. 226 of Your Weekly Staff Meeting alerts you to a controversial board governance issue (The Approval Syndrome) from John Carver’s classic book on policy governance. And this reminder: check out my Management Buckets website with dozens of resources and downloadable worksheets for your staff meetings.
Dysfunctional Board Control
If you want to spark some healthy conflict in your next conversation with nonprofit CEOs or senior pastors, throw this verbal grenade into the discussion: “Hey! What do you all think about policy governance?”
According to Policy Governance Guru John Carver, “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.”
I mention this because I consult frequently with nonprofit boards—and still have two governance webinars and two governance workshops on the calendar yet this year (see below). And even though the majority of boards I work with say they function as “policy governance” boards, I don’t believe them—because their micro-managing practices are so blatant.
For example, consider John Carver’s insight on what he calls the flaws of “The Approval Syndrome.” They include: reactivity, sheer volume of material, mental misdirection, letting staff off the hook, unfairly putting staff on the hook, short-term bias, lack of clarity in the board’s contribution, and fragmentation (“a sequence of disconnected and unmanageably voluminous vertical slices of the whole…instead of a holistic, manageable fabric of horizontally connected policies”).
He adds, “We all profess that boards should deal with the big picture, but it is difficult to picture the forest by inspecting one tree at a time.”
One of my favorite Carver counter-intuitive commentaries describes what happens when a board delivers a “vote of confidence” for the CEO during a crisis situation.
In Carver’s policy governance bible, Boards That Make a Difference, he writes, “Curiously, there are times when the board goes through the approval process not intending to withhold authority from the CEO but to confirm it. A board might declare its supports for the CEO by cloaking some controversial executive decision with the prestige of the boardroom. Board motivation is usually expressed thus: ‘We want the staff (or others) to know the board is really behind the CEO on this.’ As long as the board and CEO understand that the decision is truly the CEO’s, this approval not only seems harmless but appears to be a healthy show of solidarity.”
Then Carver adds this zinger. “However, such a gesture of board support is called for only if the board has been sending weak signals about the nature of delegation. This kind of support is rarely warranted if the board has made it clear to all that all CEO decisions that are within board-stated bounds are always supported by the board. Official support of a specific action implies that such sporadic backup is necessary, or conversely, that the general philosophy of delegation is weak.”
Carver notes—in his massive 340-page hardback, with another 80 pages of resources and references—that “Board approvals are an unnecessary and dysfunctional method of board control, then, regardless of the ubiquity of the practice.” He goes on—in succeeding chapters—to build the case for “a more proactive, fair, and detrivializing approach to fulfilling the board’s moral and legal obligation to control the organization.”
If no one on the senior team or board of your nonprofit organization or church is familiar with Carver’s brand of policy governance (he invented the term), this is the starting point. Whether you agree or disagree that this board approach is right for your organization, it’s important to understand the continuum of choices available—and to seek consensus on defining your current reality and where your preferred governance future lies. Interestingly, the book includes an excellent “ends” policy (a big Carver term) from Lancaster County Bible Church.
To order this book from Amazon, click on the graphic below for Boards That Make a Difference: A New Design for Leadership in Nonprofit Organizations, by John Carver.
Note: If 340 pages are a tad too much for you, Carver has a series booklets, focusing on niche policy governance issues. Another option is to check out the “lean and mean” approach, favored by many including myself, of a 10- to 15-page Board Policies Manual, as described in the book, Good Governance for Nonprofits: Developing Principles and Policies for an Effective Board, by Frederic L. Laughlin and Robert C. Andringa. Read my 2007 review.
Your Weekly Staff Meeting Questions:
1) Board members can’t always be blamed for governance dysfunction. Sometimes CEOs and senior team members invite confusion when they bring agenda items to the board, in essence begging the board to micro-manage. Is it clear, in our organization, where the line falls between board decisions and staff decisions?
2) Carver writes, “…my counsel to boards minces few words. I am hard on boards simply because I know how good they can be.” On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 is extraordinary), how good is our board?
Don’t Nit-Pick! - Insights from Mastering the Management Buckets: 20 Critical Competencies for Leading Your Business or Nonprofit
One of the big ideas in the People Bucket, Chapter 7, in Mastering the Management Buckets is that there are four different social styles and your unique style—whether you are a Driver, an Analytical, an Amiable, or an Expressive—will regularly bug the other three styles.
For example, here are six “Don’ts” when working with Expressives:
--DON’T put down the Expressive’s enthusiasm and excitement.
--DON’T be cool and impersonal.
--DON’T be impatient with side trips and creativity.
--DON’T be too serious.
--DON’T give too much detail.
For the list of six “DO’s” when working with Expressives (example: “DO illustrate concepts with stories.”) and the Do’s and Don’ts for the other three styles, visit the People Bucket webpage and download the worksheet, “Do’s and Don’ts for the Four Social Styles.”
JOIN US AT THESE WORKSHOPS AND WEBINARS!
--Aug. 23, 2011 (Tuesday) – Webinar: 3 Core Competencies for God-honoring Church Governance with Steve Macchia and Dan Busby (hosted by ECFA)
--Sept. 8, 2011 (Thursday) – Webinar: Goal Alignment—The Missing Link in Leadership Effectiveness (hosted by The Mission Exchange)
--Sept. 23, 2011 (Tuesday) – Webinar: 3 Core Competencies for Nonprofit Ministry Governance with Steve Macchia and Dan Busby (hosted by ECFA)
--Sept. 17, 2011 (Saturday) – Nonprofit Board Governance Workshop (hosted by Town and Country Manor, Santa Ana, Calif.)
--Sept. 27-28, 2011 (Tues. & Wed.) – Mastering the Management Buckets Workshop Experience, (Orange County, Calif.)
--Oct. 6, 2011 (Thursday) – The Top-10 Hiring Mistakes (Orange County, Calif.)
--Oct. 7, 2011 (Friday) - Goal Alignment: How to Turbo-charge Your Organization by Focusing on S.M.A.R.T. Goals for Every Team Member, Board Member & Volunteer (Orange County, Calif.)
--Oct. 20, 2011 (Thursday) - 9 Governance Essentials for Nonprofit Ministries Forum, with Steve Macchia and Dan Busby (sponsored by ECFA and hosted by Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs, Colo.)