- Never Have a Policy that Includes "Unless the Board Approves"
In North America football is played with an oblong ball on a field where said ball is thrown, kicked, caught - or dropped. Players run, block, tackle and are tackled. Touchdowns are scored and field goals are made- or missed. This game is played in both Canada and the US, albeit with a few different nuances. In Canada there are three downs while in the US there are four downs. The Canadian field is ten yards longer and twelve yards wider. In the US there are eleven players whereas in Canada there are twelve players on the field at one time. In Canada the defence scrimmages one-yard off the ball but in the US it scrimmages on the line. These are some of the variations of what is essentially the same game. American players come up to Canada and play successfully on Canadian teams when they have never played on a Canadian field or by Canadian rules before. Why? Because football is football. Even within each league, rules are changed every year. But no matter how much the rules are changed, football will never evolve into baseball. Baseball is a different game, requiring an entirely different field, different equipment and different athletic skills.
When a board is introduced to Policy Governance, sometimes referred to as the Carver model, as a way to help it govern better, it often views the exercise as a variation of the same game. Sure there will be new terms, some rule changes and variances; but after all a board is a board so any changes will be primarily cosmetic – won’t they? So the board goes for it. Directors show up at the next board meeting with their football, helmet and shoulder pads.
But the field looks more like an octagon rather than the long and narrow field they are used to. The players are in one corner of the field with a round ball and a stick. There is nothing virtuous about carrying the ball but running around a square without it is applauded. This isn’t a deviation from the same old game; it is an entirely different sport.
As a Policy Governance consultant I fail miserably at communicating the idea of a new game. Despite my finest but ineffective efforts in making sure the players come with their gloves and bats, sooner or later they will show up with their football helmets and shoulder pads. After some training and practice we have the idea of hitting the ball figured out. But I am once again shocked when they drive the ball to centre field and then run through the infield chasing the ball.
Yes; Policy Governance is that different. And yes board members will chase the ball instead of running the bases and carry the ball when they should be throwing it; which leads us to the biggest challenge facing boards which have converted to Policy Governance.
Athletes have been instructed and coached about how the new game is played. The coach has done a great job of explaining, illustrating and reviewing various aspects of the sport. The players are buying into the philosophy; they get it. Even the first quarter – I mean inning goes well. However under the pressure of the moment there is a tendency to revert to the old way of playing the game. Instead of hitting the ball, it seems easier to pick it up and carry it. When the old game was played it was okay to run anywhere on the field; now the only place to run is on the base lines. The propensity to do this is natural and shouldn’t cause any undue alarm. However if those old habits of playing the game are not avoided, winning will be illusive.
Policy Governance is not an easier way of playing the same game. It requires an understanding of the fundamentals of governance and then the discipline to play the game in a way that heightens the likelihood of governance success.
SO WHY CHANGE?
If this new governance game is so different and requires so much discipline, why bother changing?
This is a common question asked by boards which are contemplating a move to Policy Governance. It is also asked by board members who come onto a board which is already practicing Policy Governance. I’m not sure how I can squeeze the game-changing analogy out of this point, so let me get straight to it.
When a board converts to Policy Governance it must understand and own the advantages of this change. Many of the decisions we make in life seem like a good idea at the start but then the muck, mess and monotony of change clutters our memory as to why we decided to make the change in the first place. So how can the decision to embrace Policy Governance be solidified?
A board needs to collectively brace itself for change. If you are a Policy Governance consultant don’t understate the way in which Policy Governance is different. Nor should Policy Governance be seen as something that will make the job of the board easier. However once it is in place, the reasons for change and the rewards of a disciplined board will result in effectiveness and excellence in governing.
Policy Governance® is an internationally registered service mark of John Carver. Registration is only to ensure accurate description of the model rather than for financial gain. The model is available free to all with no royalties or licence fees for its use. The authoritative website for Policy Governance is www.carvergovernance.com.