Writing Ends can be difficult in our culture

Ends is a term coined by John Carver for Policy Governance. For some people the concept is a bit difficult to grasp, but it has always been a feature of good leadership. [click the title if you cannot see the rest of this article…]

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Your Policy Governance consultant will insist that if you are using verbs as you describe the required outcomes of your organization, you are really talking about means, and those have no place in Ends.

Verbs seem hard to avoid. They are a part of every English sentence.

Objectives, such as the ones in your legal constitution and bylaws, are probably specified as a series of verbs: to do this, to accomplish that, etc.

Ask almost anybody what their organization is supposed to accomplish, and the answer usually begins, “Our organization is to …” And the next word is a verb. Aren’t those outcomes?

Actually, no.

Your consultant will drive you crazy saying things like, “Verbs describe actions. Those are the actions your organization may (or may not) take to accomplish a result. Your Ends must describe the result, not the action to produce that result.”

With Policy Governance, the actions to produce the results are part of the strategy to deliver the results. The actions and the strategy belong to those you hold accountable for the results — your staff. Describing how the result is produced is their business, not the board’s.

Here is the trouble. It is part of our culture that our language does not adequately separate the concepts of

  1. results, and
  2. the actions required to produce results.

In a room full of people who are new to Policy Governance, nearly half will not hear the difference in language. This is not a matter of intelligence. Those of us who have occupied much of our lives figuring out what to do when confronted by a problem or a need will immediately cast the solutions in terms of needed action. In other words, these people will articulate the need with a series of verbs. When others don’t speak with verbs, those people will think everyone is missing the point.

You really cannot produce meaningful Ends until your whole group grasps the concept of Ends. For some of you the distinction is obvious. Please try to be helpful to those who don’t. Being impatient and annoyed will not be productive.

Trust me, you are coping with a cultural situation, not stubbornness. It is a matter of internalizing some new definitions for old words, and understanding some new uses for the language. This adaptation will take time and thought for some people. Since these folks are probably articulate, and might already have enjoyed successes as leaders, it may be particularly difficult for them to even accept that there is a concept here they have to learn.

In the next article I will describe the syntax for articulating Ends. Here, I want to recognize the cultural features of the situation that are real obstacles to groups trying to formulate effective Ends.

For me, the light went on when I read the book, Getting It Done — how to lead when you’re not in charge, by Roger Fisher & Alan Sharp. In a section called, Formulate Your Purpose in Terms of Results to Be Achieved, they said, “Briefly stated, good goals are nouns…”

There is a whole section of Stephen R. Covey’s, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, devoted to the concept. Covey’s students know what this is about when I point out that describing Ends is pretty much the same as using Stewardship Delegation.

© 2007 R. Ballantyne. All rights reserved. This is for your use at your computer screen. For reproduction of any kind you will need the written permission of the author.

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