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A Kinder, Gentler Approach to Policy Governance Training

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In rereading Geoffrey Moore's books, especially "Crossing the Chasm," it struck me that the changes that technology firms have to make to market to the broad majority of consumers applies to Policy Governance as well.  Moore breaks consumers into categories that reflect their approach to the adoption of technology.  He has identified five categories and their distribution generally relates to the standard deviations of a normal curve:

  • Innovators - Pursue new technology aggressively - technology is a central interest to them
  • Early Adopters -Pursue new technology for the benefits, but they are not technologists. 
  • Early Majority - Relate to technology, but are much more practical and tend to wait
  • Late Majority - Similar to Early Majority but not comfortable with technology
  • Laggards - Move to technology only when they have to or when it is an invisible part of some other product

Each consumer category expects to be approached in a particular way..  The biggest difference among categories lies between the early adopters and the early majority.  Just as an organization is trying to make a transition to the category of consumers with the greatest number of people and often the greatest profit margins, the greatest changes in approach have to occur. 

Early adopters have the ability to match an emerging technology to a strategic opportunity.  They tend to be new to executive positions, highly motivated, and driven by a dream.  If you can understand their dream, you can understand how to market to them.  They are not looking for an improvement; they are looking for a fundamental breakthrough.  They also tend to be project oriented. 

The early majority is best understood as pragmatists.  They are hard to win over but loyal once won.  They care about the company from which they are buying, quality of the product, and the supporting infrastructure.  They like to buy from proven market leaders.  They drive the main-stream market. 

The gap that exists between these two groups is created by four reactions that early majority consumers have to being approached as an early adopter. 

  • Lack of respect for the value of colleague's experiences
  • Taking a greater interest in technology than in their industry
  • Failing to recognize the importance of existing product infrastructure
  • Overall disruptiveness

The early adopters of Policy Governance have for the most part been non-profits.  The innovation that attracted them was the ability to refocus on Ends.  It allowed them to move towards their dreams and callings in a way their previous governance approach didn't provide.  However, Policy Governance now appears to be at the gap between the early adopters and the early majority, or as Moore describes it the "Chasm."  Currently, Policy Governance gives little credit to other governance approaches, even calling itself the only existing model of governance.  Policy Governance places more focus on the principals of governance than the nuances of the industries in which they are applied.  Policy Governance usually creates new governance structures, with little incorporation of current structures.  Often the governance expert comes in, turns the board upside down and leaves, establishing a continuous disruption as the board struggles with integration.  So, the question is can Policy Governance make the leap to early majority consumers?

First, most of the implementation approaches of Policy Governance can be defended, and should be defended as being central to the adoption and implementation of Policy Governance.  For instance, Policy Governance is the only model of governance.  If a board wishes to change old behaviors and thinking, it will require a singular focus on governance at the exclusion of the setting in which it occurs.  However, just because the actions are reasonable they don't negate the fact that it is going to be difficult for early majority boards to move to Policy Governance.

The solution is a kinder, gentler approach to Policy Governance.  It needs to be one that values and respects what is there and what has been accomplished.  Policy Governance proponents need to recognize that the previous approach to governance racked up some very successful organizations and institutions that have made the world a much better place in which to live.  It is also a myth that Policy Governance would have stopped all or even most of the abuses and neglect that have occurred by organizations or executives.  Policy Governance proponents need to recognize that boards and board members are not bad, dumb or power hungry because they do not agree with Policy Governance, which is often how it is presented, however subtlety.  Policy Governance proponents need to move away from the shock value statements and approaches that were valued by the innovators and early adopters, and recognize that there is a great amount of flexibility in the model.  In the end, boards are going to do what they want to do; in reality this is the essence of Policy Governance. Policy Governance proponents need to better match their approach to what these early majority boards want rather than ensuring that the ideology is pure and the technique is clean.  This is not a war against other styles of governance.

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Lynn A. Walker, Ph.D.
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