Ends recognize community needs – not personal visions

Articulating the Ends of an organization is the job of the board. Deciding on what is appropriate is not an easy task. Usually board members have their visions of what should be achieved, sometimes members of the community petition the board to attend to their projects, and often the staff members have ideas of what should become the priority activities. [If you cannot see the rest of this article, click on the title… ]

How does the board identify and approve appropriate Ends?

The board will need to identify all useful possibilities, and then weed out personal visions, and also any Ends that are promoted by people other than the owners. It is worthwhile to listen to everyone, and even explore ideas with the ownership — but when the Ends are written, the board must have some comfort that this is what the owners would have the board say.

How does the board proceed?

As readers of this blog will know, the first place to look for answers is to find out what the segment of the community that has been identified as the owners have to say on the subject.

If the board is new to this process, the board might assume that the board members are enough of a subset of the ownership that they can go ahead and write the first approximation of Ends without any further consultation with the community. Writing Ends is an iterative process, and as long as everyone knows that these new Ends will be explored with the ownership, and perhaps re-written, then it is a good first exercise.

When talking to members of the community, it is not enough to ask them what Ends they would want. They won’t even know what an End is; and it is not their job to think about this. That job belongs to the board. The discussion begins with probing for information about the community’s lives and needs, and listening. Real leadership includes identifying possible Ends that perhaps the community has not considered. This work is not complete until the creative ideas of the board have been further explored with that community: “What do you think of this as a way to address that?” Only when the community has agreed that is the result that they would like to see does the board have the moral authority to proceed.

Back to the process of writing Ends…

Begin by listing all of the possibilities. Consider using brainstorming. Reject verbs and actions (these are means, not Ends) — but explore the Ends that would result from those actions. Consolidate and prioritize what remains. Then re-think and hone the wording in preparation for approval at a legal meeting. (I can describe that process in one short paragraph; but expect that it will take time, probably several meetings. How these steps are facilitated may have to be tailored to your situation.)

If an End is something the board simply wants, or just looks attractive, it is probably not worthy. Beware of personal (or group) visions. Certainly consider these visions because they might reveal a real need but be prepared to test that value with the ownership.

The test is: Is this End a community need? Is it what the owners would demand?

When prioritizing, the issue is: Which of these is most urgently needed by the community (as required by the owners)?

Ask: If the owners knew what we know as board members, what would be their priorities?

Be firm about distinguishing between what you want and what is needed. Sometimes it helps to ask the question: looking back on this (after the End has been achieved), what would we agree that we should have accomplished?

The board is not there to honor and justify the current and past programs of the staff by ensuring that those activities continue in the future. By all means, see if you can identify the Ends that the current activities address. But when you look to the future, don’t be surprised if some of the current work receives a lower priority. It may have been essential at one time, and it may still be important now. The board’s job is to look to the future; and it may be that out there, there are better uses for the resources of this organization. Part of your role may be recognizing and appreciating the current work of the staff; but that should not be done as part of Ends development.

The integrity of the work of the board depends on its accurately (as practically possible) articulating the Ends that are what the owners would agree are needed.

© 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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