The Web site www.carvergovernance.com offers a description of the world's most complete theoretical foundation for the governing board=s role in business, nonprofit and governmental organizations. The description is excellent: it is also 17 pages long. The following are excerpts from just two of its sections.

Board Meetings

Because in Policy Governance the board is in charge of its own job, board meetings become the board's meetings rather than management's meetings for the board. Board meetings occur because of the need for board members to learn together, to contemplate and deliberate together, and to decide together. Board meetings are not for reviewing the past, being entertained by staff, helping staff do its work, or performing ritual approvals of staff plans.

The CEO is always present, but is not the central figure. Other staff might be present when they have valuable input on matters the board is to decide. For community boards, with rare exceptions meetings
would be open not to please the law, but because of a board commitment to transparency. The board is not merely a body to confirm committee decisions, but the body that makes the decisions. Board committees might be used to increase the board's understanding of factors and options, but never to assume board prerogatives or remove difficult choices from the board table. In contrast to the old bromide that Athe real works takes place in committees, in Policy Governance the real work takes place in the board meeting.

Board meetings should thus be more about the long term future than the present or short term future ... more about ends than means ... more about a few thoroughly considered large decisions than many small ones. And by their very character, meetings should demonstrate that the board's primary relationship is with owners, not with staff.

Summary

The Policy Governance model recognizes that any governing board is obligated to fulfill a crucial link in the chain of command between owners whether legal or moral in nature and operators. The board does not exist to help staff, but to give the ownership the controlling voice. The board's owner-representative authority is best employed by operating as an undivided unit, prescribing organizational ends, but only limiting staff means, making all its decisions using the principle of policies descending in size. The model enables extensive empowerment to staff while preserving controls necessary for accountability. It provides a values-based foundation for discipline, a framework for precision delegation, and a long term focus on what the organization is for rather than what it does. 

The Policy Governance model provides an alternative for boards unhappy with reactivity, trivia, and hollow ritual boards seeking to be truly accountable. But attaining this level of excellence requires the board to break with a long tradition of disastrous governance habits. And it offers a challenge for visionary groups determined to make a real difference in tomorrow's world.

The material in this publication is based on work supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration under cooperative agreement SBAHG-04-S-0001. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Updated May 2006 George Hannye

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