The power of policy

People seem to think that policy is vague and is about generalizations. With Policy Governance the board is speaking words-of-power. If the board knows how to hold the staff accountable for its words, they will make difference. Here is how it can work for you. [If you cannot see the rest of this article, click on the title… ]

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Our culture seems to teach that people who command are expected to issue instructions to those they supervise. The instructions are usually to do this or that. Such edicts certainly show who is the boss, and it often produces a lot of immediate action.

The article, Writing Ends – a discussion of the syntax, explains the reasons for expressing what you want to achieve using the language of Ends instead of edicts.

You are probably reading this because you are concerned that writing some policy simply is not going to get you the results that, in your mind, you can visualize.

If what you envision is only the action towards the result, you may be right. I see many non-profit organizations engaged in many worthy actions as a consequence of such commands. But, are they actually producing the required result? In many cases, these actions are merely advancing the cause, and will never reach the goal. While this certainly feels good, it is likely falling short of what is really required. I consider this a serious shortcoming of many of our valuable nonprofit organizations. Doing a lot of good work is not good enough. Achieving the required results in reasonable time with efficient use of our community’s resources is what is necessary.

With Policy Governance, it is not enough for your organization to forever be working toward some unattainable goal. In your Ends policies, you need to describe the result that must be achieved, or achieved and maintained. The hard part for you (as a member of the board) may be accepting that the strategies to accomplish that are not your responsibility.

How specific can you be in demanding the needed results? This is where any vagueness evaporates. With Policy Governance, you can be as specific as necessary so that if the staff produces any reasonable interpretation of your words, you and your board will be satisfied.

The test of any reasonable interpretation is the concept that should give you comfort with using policy instead of edicts. Before you approve an Ends policy (or Executive Limitations policy), the board will be asked by the chair, “Will you be satisfied with any reasonable interpretation of this policy.” This is because, in one of your policies your board has said something similar to:

Policy – Delegation to the Chief-of-Staff
…As long as the Chief-of-Staff uses any reasonable interpretation of the board’s Ends and Executive limitations policies, the Chief-of-Staff is authorized to establish all further policies, make all decisions, take all actions, establish all practices and develop all activities.

Reasonable interpretation means that your words must be interpreted reasonably. While this gives the staff considerable scope to develop creative strategies, there is no room to develop bazaar or fanciful interpretations. Your Chief-of-Staff is bound by the legal test of what a reasonable person would do.

Although policies give the staff some latitude, I would argue that there is nothing inherently vague about writing such policies.

When you receive the monitoring reports that describe how the staff is attending to your policies, part of those reports will include a description of how the staff have interpreted your policy. If it is reasonable, AND it is producing results that you consider to be inappropriate, it is your right (and your responsibility) as a board to re-write the policy.

If you are diligent in using the tools of governance, your words will ensure that your community has the needed results for which your organization exists.

© 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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