The distinction between ends and means when using Policy Governance

When learning Policy Governance, board members have to distinguish between the organizational ends and means. This seems like an easy matter, but unless the members have a clear understanding of the distinction, it can become a thorny issue. [If you cannot see the rest of this article, click on the title… ]

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This article is meant to be a short reminder of this distinction. The board will instruct staff by writing Ends policies and Executive Limitation policies.

Ends policies speak about one or more of three topics:

  • The results (benefit or change) in the community for which the organization exists
  • The people for whom the results must be achieved
  • Statements about the worth, relative priority, or cost of achieving the results (the issue is that that the cost of producing the results must be worth the results achieved)

Note that the overarching End statement must include all three concepts. Lower level policies can describe one or two or all three of the topics.

Anything else that the board has to say to the staff (other than the above three points) must be about means.

To keep this distinction simple: if the statement is not about Ends, it must be about means.

The board does not describe the means to achieving the Ends. Those who are accountable for achieving the Ends are also accountable for developing all of their own means.

All that the board has to say about means are policies that instruct those who are accountable for producing the results to behave efficiently, ethically and prudently.

While the board may not issue instructions about how to accomplish the Ends, it will approve policies that constrain the doers from behaving inefficiently, unethically and imprudently. Since these policies limit the doers’ actions, even if those actions would be effective, the policies are called Executive Limitations.

© 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.
(Note: this material is derived from the work of Miriam and John Carver. A full discussion for developing Ends is their book,
Reinventing Your Board, © 1997 Jossey-Bass Inc., Pages 135 – 157.)

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