On occasion we get a cold call from a board that is following Policy Governance (note to self; following is not usually the same as using or practicing!) but feels that it has lost its way. Often what we find is a board who did not invest seriously in building board capacity through the orientation and selection process. We believe a rigorous orientation process is essential to board effectiveness and to governance system capability and sustainability.
Here are a few of the board orientation topics you may be looking for:
- What does a good orientation process do and look like?
We believe that to be effective in sustaining the board's ability to use its governing system, two things are critical and a few others are important. The two critical pieces are that after the orientation the new board members have a firm grounding on the principles and concepts underlying the model which is the framework of the governing system (Policy Governance(r)) AND they need a good grounding in the impact this has on how the work of the board, now their work, is done. Principles AND practice. The important things extend to the basic information for how to access tools and information they need (including a current copy of the policy manual), an understanding of the organization and the fundamentals of good group process and any specific rules of order the board follows in addition to what is in policy.
- Who should go through orientation?
At a minimum new board members should have a thorough orientation to this way of governing. Without it they may instead bring old habits from boards not using Policy Governance and, over time, when enough old habits become current practice it can threaten the sustainability of the system. At best we believe it good to include the full board in the orientation both to keep everyone's knowledge keen and because every time you have even one new member on a team you are forming a new team. Beyond that we have had a fair amount of success with orienting key staff members, particularly those who will support the work of the CEO in meeting board requirements, like in the production of monitoring reports, so they can see the connection between what they are asked to do and how the board leads. It has also been useful for some boards who have elections to conduct a short orientation for prospective candidates so that they will know what will be expected and how the work will be done if they join the board.
- How does board succession play a role in board effectiveness and governance sustainability?
In our experience there are two camps on board succession. One camp believes that term limits are good because it opens the field of leadership and growth opportunities and brings fresh ideas to the table. The other camp believes that because Policy Governance is quite different from most other board systems there is a long learning curve and too much turnover can lead to not enough steady hands who know the system being used at the board table. We believe that terms are a strategic issue for each board to decide, but, that whatever the terms are, there should be mechanisms in place to ensure that new members are prepared for the work and existing members are still engaged in the work.