Saturday, November 17, 2012

Governance Change (A Fable)

nce upon a time, there was a kingdom of people who were busy managing projects named Pee-Em-Eye Ess-Eff-BeeA Sea. They were busy doing this work, and they found themselves wondering if there was a better way than just telling people what to do, and then scurrying off to the next project.

A small group of people in the kingdom thought that there was a better way to manage the kingdom of Pee-Em-Eye Ess-Eff-BeeA Sea. They believed they could apply some of their project management skills to help all the people in the kingdom to be more successful and happy.

So they started holding meetings with as many people as they could and asked people to become members of the community. They elected a president, and a board. Since each board member was interested in helping out in different areas, each one chose a different title (like CFO and VP of Professional Development, etc.). Since they all knew that they were trying to make life better for Pee-Em-Eye, they worked very well in these roles, and their work flourished.

At some point, they realized that they should probably apply some democratic best practices, so they wrote some bylaws that included both how things were working now, and things intended to sustain the kingdom (like how long a board member could serve, and how they would be elected, etc.)
The kingdom and the board flourished, and new boards were elected from the other volunteers in the organization. The organization grew, and life was good.

After a long while, a curious thing happened. Partly because none of the original council were still around, and partly because the world had changed, they were having trouble keeping momentum from year to year. And, in fact it was becoming harder to find people who could lead the work needing to be done while still thinking of the long term good of the kingdom. And the council was so busy with keeping things running that they were losing touch with their members. The members in turn were losing confidence in the kingdom, becoming less involved and in fact starting to wonder why they were even members at all.

Fortunately for the kingdom, around this time one of the members of the kingdom met Paulie C. Governance. Paulie, it seems, had a solution to the issues of the day: transparency, accountability and community involvement. There was a system, he told them that would focus them on the real goals of the organization (Paulie called this the "global ends statement"). Paulie also told them that the goals would align better with the needs of the members (Paulie called them "owners"), and would open communications between the citizens and the board. (Paulie called this increase in transparency and communication "ownership linkage"), and that system was called Policy Governance®.

After some interesting "Who's on First?" conversation during which the board learned that the system wasn't "Paulie C. Governance" and in fact hadn't been named for Paulie, but rather was  an integrated set of concepts and principles that describes the job of any governing board. This system was similar to the PMBOK in that it was a system based on theory gained by study and synthesis of a number of other concepts including servant leadership.

So Paulie's idea was to change the way the board operated. They would be responsible for guiding the kingdom, and responsible to the member/owners and accountable to them. All they had to do was to delegate the responsibility for the day to day work to someone who was accountable to the board, who in turn would be accountable to the member/owners.

So the council worked with Paulie to interpret the goals of the member/owners that they would need in order to focus on delivering the true needs of the member/owners (Paulie called these the "ends"). Once they had done that, they worked with the member/owners and with Paulie's guidance decided upon the boundaries that were acceptable in accomplishing those ends (Paulie called these "limitations").

They chose a new CEO to lead the day to day work of the organization guided by both the ends and limitations.

Paulie next told them:
In order for this system to work, the CEO needs the freedom to choose the means by which they accomplish the ends. So you need to judge their performance not by personal bias or unwritten ideas, but by the standard that they have used any reasonable interpretation in those means.
Any reasonable interpretation means just that. It doesn't mean the interpretation of the most prominent board member, the interpretation the board had in mind but didn't say, or even the interpretation now favored by the entire board. The council is obligated not only to be fair in this judgment, but to protect the CEO from individual board members who wish to judge based on their interpretation of the board's policy.
Once the board adopted Policy Governance®, the moral of the story became clear. The board was able to clearly summarize the goals of the kingdom as:
PMI-SFBAC members, people who live and work in Northern California, and virtual beneficiaries experience a continually improving standard of living, stability, a sense of community, self-esteem and self- actualization. These Ends will be achieved in a sustainable manner that represents value for the resources invested.
Because there was now this clear vision, CEO no longer focused on random ideas of each board member, but was able to make intelligent decisions and ensure that all the work the volunteers were doing was driving toward that vision. And because the vision was clearer, what was being asked of the volunteers was clearer, and they were happier. And the board no longer had to spend long hours thinking about which programs to cut or how much to spend on each one, since the policies allowed the CEO to do this.

The CEO was able to mobilize more volunteers and more easily help guide them. There was the freedom to innovate, and clear boundaries to avoid misstep, and a confidence building since it was clear that there was no need to satisfy individual board members' pet projects, but instead be responsible to using means that satisfied the "any reasonable interpretation" test for the entire board.
And the framework also helped the board in their job. Their calendar was now completely driven by monitoring the policies, and linking back to the membership. A schedule for monitoring the policies was included in the policies, so they knew exactly when they would be looking at which issue, and when to expect evidence of compliance from the CEO and when they would monitor their own compliance with the policies.

Because this system called Policy Goverance® helped them be clearer on what they needed to do, things that they had long thought impossible were happening: Board meetings were more organized and regular, they could spend more time working with the membership to improve the policies, the organization was able to be more innovative and focused.
So the journey began, and I'd like to say they "lived happily ever after", but then came the trial of Paulie C. Governance ... But that's a story for another day ....

The End

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