- Posted by Paul Zilz
- On November 29, 2016
- Board Leadership, Strategic Focus
Do you remember back in 1991 when a U.S. Presidential candidate successfully used the slogan “It’s the economy stupid” to keep people focused on the message that he could bring back economic prosperity when the nation’s economy began to slip into a recession?
Campaign phrases like that succinctly focus people’s attention on one key idea the candidate wants to promote. Good campaign phrases are in essence good marketing devices, just like an advertising jingle or tag line we all can recall from many years ago. They focus our attention on a single issue or benefit that the user hopes motivates us to action.
It’s the results stupid!
Why is it that when it comes to serving on a board we often focus more on the details of activities and programs than the results we want to see?
For example, does your board receive a “Director’s Report” that details the activities the Executive has performed over a period of time? I have sat on boards where a Director’s Report has told me which people he has approached for funds, his meeting with the auditor, his meeting with the banker, his internal leadership and team building activities, the conferences he has attended, etc. Nice to know, maybe, but not really helpful for me as a board member to assess the effectiveness of the organization. That Director’s Report can tell me how busy a person is, but certainly not how effective that person is in achieving the results the board intends to see achieved!
I would recommend we board members keep in mind two key points regarding effective board leadership:
1. Our board’s strategic contribution to the organization is to establish and monitor what results are intended for which targeted recipients at a certain specified worth to the organization.
In Policy Governance, we call these the Ends. The Ends keep the board focused on what results the organization is to achieve. Without the Ends, a board can become overly focused on what is being done by the organization in accordance with the mission. But what is a mission? Usually, mission statements are phrased in such a way as to demonstrate what the organization is doing, rather than the benefits that are to be received by the people served by the organization.
For example, a school might state its mission as providing students with a quality education. Really? And how do we measure mission success? By how many hours the teachers spend teaching? Which test scores do we use to measure quality education, and what is “quality education”? Will the board feel compelled to direct the curriculum used in the classroom?
What if the school instead said it exists to ensure students of its school acquire the knowledge, skills, and attitudes for success at subsequent stages in their lives at a cost that demonstrates prudent stewardship of resources? What if the board further interprets this global intended result by stating two priorities: 1) As a first priority, students are proficient at grade level in mathematics, basic sciences, reading, and writing. 2) As a second priority, students can listen actively, think critically, and solve problems logically.
Now the board is focused on the students and the benefits they are to receive rather than the program and activities the school is using to accomplish some organization-centric “mission.” The board can monitor the principal’s achievement of those benefits to be received by the students. Ends help a board focus on results!
It’s the results stupid!
2. It is important that we ensure that certain activities and conditions our board believes are imprudent or unethical are in fact not occurring.
Obviously, while our board wants to see real results being achieved based on what it has stipulated in its Ends, our board also wants to ensure that certain activities and conditions be avoided which we consider to be imprudent or unethical. Such actions would jeopardize our organization’s existence!
This requires our board develop in writing the policies that delineate those activities or conditions it finds imprudent or unethical, even if they were to help the organization achieve its the intended results as stipulated in the Ends. Additionally, this requires our board to monitor, to ensure what we said we didn’t want to see happen, is in fact not happening.
How do we do this? That is a topic for another day! Let’s just say at this point, that the board can use an internal report from the Executive; an external report such a financial, HR, and/or legal audit; or direct inspection by the board itself (no, this does NOT refer to a 360 review!). Most boards using Policy Governance learn through experience and the use of a knowledgeable Policy Governance coach when and how to use these three monitoring methods effectively.
It’s the results stupid!
Our board wants to see that actual results are achieved based on our Ends using means that comply with our written policies that capture our collective values regarding what we consider imprudent or unethical.
That’s effective board leadership!