In our work with boards, we tend to see two extremes. On one end of the continuum is the rubber stamp board. We see this most often in organizations that have an assertive, high-performing and highly trusted executive director or CEO. Oftentimes that person founded the organization and they may take the lead in recruiting board members. Rubber stamp boards usually think they’re functioning great, until something scandalous happens. It hits the news, they’re embarrassed, and they hang their heads asking, “How did we not see this coming?”
On the other end is the meddling board. We see this most often when assertive and conscientious board members, wanting to fulfill their oversight responsibilities, push or drift into operational decisions and details because they don’t really know of a way to responsibly bring oversight without micromanaging. These organizations have painful and tedious board meetings, and their CEOs feel handcuffed.
So what is a board’s job? I want to clarify that I am talking about governing boards, not advisory ones. Advisory boards give advice, which the people seeking that advice can either take or leave. Simply put, a governing board’s job is to ensure that the organization is pursuing the right things in the right ways.
So a board must clarify the desired outcomes or results of the organization’s work. It must also paint the boundaries or limit the means by which management can achieve those results. And then it must insist upon systematic, believable monitoring data that address the expectations it has established … it must bring meaningful accountability.
There are a few ways to do this without rubber stamping and without micromanaging your CEO. The approach we like best is known as the Policy Governance Model developed by John Carver. It’s the best model I have seen for enabling a board to do its job effectively. Now I have no deal nor obligation to the Policy Governance folks. I just think it’s a great model, so that’s the one we usually put to work in our service to boards. If you want to learn more, I’ll direct you to policygovernance.com, or you can contact me at True Edge, and we can talk about it.
Your board bears ultimate responsibility for what your organization achieves and how it gets there. If you want a high-performing board, you must first define its job clearly.