A Perspective on Ends — Community Transformation

With Policy Governance, it is through the articulation of ends, and then the monitoring of those ends, that you (the board) achieve the required community transformation.

What result, for what people, at what cost?

That term, community transformation, may seem a bit lofty. By now you’ve heard that ends are statements that talk about “what result, for what people, at what cost.” That phrase is just shorthand to remind you what is an end, and what is a means (everything that is not an end). This ends-means distinction seems very difficult for some people, so ensuring that any board concerns about means are expressed as executive limitations is often the discussion associated with ends. Here, I am assuming that you’ve mastered this distinction, and I want to focus on the content of those ends.

The phrase “what result, for what people, at what cost” requires the board to know what result (benefit, change) in the community is required, who will benefit from the change, and what is a reasonable cost for achieving that result. The truth is that most boards struggle to discover what result should be achieved by their organization.

In the opening paragraph, I commented that it is through the board’s ends that the community transformation is achieved. Is that true for your organization, or is it really the staff who know what has to happen, and the staff who will do what is required whether the board ‘gets it’ or not? We are still in the era of the cult of the CEO. In many organizations, the board simply hires the chief executive who is expected to quickly discover the appropriate vision for the organization and then work to make it so. Even if the CEO is not the visionary, often the ongoing work of the organization seems so important that all the board wants to do is enshrine the current operation in the ends. Evidence of this is that the discussion of ends revolves around examining what the organization is currently doing, or what the CEO wants the organization to do, and then attempt to write ends policies that will reflect that. This might be a place to begin to explore ends for the organization; it is important for a board that is beginning to use Policy Governance to learn what their organization is really doing, and to understand what benefits are currently being produced for what people, and what is the cost of all of this. A lot of unnecessary dislocation of people and resources might be avoided if the first articulation of ends merely enables this to continue (unless something clearly needs changing).

Mission & Vision Statements

Unfortunately, because so many board members have gone on retreats to write mission and vision statements, they recognize that some of the process of writing ends feels like those old exercises. Having gone to the trouble to establish mission and vision statements, those words are traditionally written in stone, and often a decade or more passes before anyone bothers to tinker with those words. That approach will not work with ends.

Ends are not the same as mission and vision statements

The work of writing ends is (or should be) substantially different from writing mission and vision statements. Mission and vision statements can be useful in providing some focus and some agreement on organizational direction. Often they are expected to inspire staff and to help the community understand the organization. But think about this: no one is held accountable for achieving a mission or a vision.

Ends are delegation

If you (the board) are doing your job, you will be holding the staff accountable for achieving your ends. In effect, when the board writes an end statement, it is as if it concludes with the phrase, “…and the CEO is accountable for achieving this end.” Or, “…and the CEO’s continued employment with this organization depends on achieving this end.” The articulation of the end is, therefore, a delegation of responsibility to the CEO and thereby to the whole organization. There is no element of delegation associated with mission and vision.

Since an end is a delegation it must be currently relevant. As soon as the board perceives that the need for the end has changed, it must change the substance of the end policy. There is no point in having the staff expending resources to achieve the wrong thing. Therefore, the board not only monitors the staff’s achievement of the ends, the board must also continually (at least once per year) ensure that the end itself is appropriate.

The board is a fiduciary for the ownership

And how does board know that the end is appropriate? Learning exactly what ends are required is at the centre of the work of the board. Attending to this is the board’s fiduciary responsibility. The formulation of ends is one of the jobs of a Policy Governance board that is profoundly different from traditional boards. Traditional boards focus on what the organization should be doing — so those boards deal with results by approving action plans. Often those board are satisfied if the organization is performing some useful activities.

Ends arise out of community need. All non-profit organizations are founded to address a community need. Before the board can write ends, it must understand that need. This is learned by communicating with the members of the community who would have the organization exist to address that need (the ownership).

Ends address the real need

When a board has really made the transition to Policy Governance, an observer at the board meeting (such as myself) can hear it in the quality of discussion about ends. The board members are not talking about the activities they’d like to see performed by the staff, instead they are talking about what has to be addressed and changed (or at least maintained) in the community. The board understands that its organization is the agent of community transformation, and the board’s job is to hold the organization accountable for achieving that transformation. The discussion about ends is certainly not about what the board members would like (personal visions), or even think is a good idea.

Gone are weak words like ‘helping,’ ‘striving,’ fostering,’ etc. Similarly, comparatives such as ‘more,’ ‘improved,’ ‘enhanced,’ are no longer adequate. What is wrong with words like this that so many organizations use as part their purpose statements? They all allow the organization to be content performing some remedial activities in the community without ever fully attending to the real need. Your organization may not have to save the world, but it must fully address the reason for which the owners believe it was founded.

You know you are on the right track when the real need becomes known to you and your board, and you begin see that certain things (in the community) must be different in the future, and that your organization has the responsibility of achieving what is necessary. Understanding this, and articulating what must in place in the future, and then holding the organization accountable for achieving that future, is the real power of ends, and of a board using Policy Governance.

© 2009 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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