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 Featured Question - July 28, 2003

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Our monitoring tends to focus on past performance.  How do we change this so that more monitoring is future oriented?


Not all monitoring has to be future oriented, and some can't be, such as most monitoring of limitations on executive personal conduct.  However, for monitoring that can and  should be future oriented, there are two rules of thumb.  For conditions or actions from which it is difficult to recover, the more future oriented the board should be.  The second rule of thumb is to not be tempted to make the Limitations more constraining, instead you will establish pseudo-boundaries between what is acceptable and what is not. 

There are two aspects to making this change towards the future.  One is technical and the other is psychological.  The technical part is easy.  The policies, and the board's willingness to enforce them, will dictate how future oriented monitoring will be.  Monitoring policies guide the monitoring that occurs.  If board policies ask for a future orientation, but they are not receiving it, the problem isn't with the policies, it is with the board's willingness to enforce accountability. 

The board will have to decide how far into the future and how often the monitoring will have to occur.  For example, an annual financial forecast gives the board a 12 month projection the first month, but that projection is continually reduced as each month passes, until shortly before the end of the year a new financial forecast is produced.  The last few months, the board's view is pretty nearsighted.  A better option would be to establish a monitoring policy that asks for 12 month projection that is update monthly or quarterly. 

This shift is as much a psychological one as one of practice.  Boards have traditionally been focused on current or past performance, with less attention on future results.  Part of this dilemma is that future performance is conjecture.  It is an interpretation of what will happen.  The data is not hard and fast, leaving room for debate or worse: fudging, and self-serving projections.  However, most of this concern goes away with Policy Governance's reasonable interpretation concept.  The monitoring of future performance doesn't have to be precise, but it does need to be a reasonable interpretation.  In fact with monitoring future performance it might be better to ask for a range within which performance will likely fall.  If the range falls within the constraints or limitations, no action is necessary.  If part or a predetermined amount of the range exceeds the limitations, then the board might ask for contingency action plans or provide for closer monitoring.  Some suggestions for what these monitoring reports might look like can be found in the Mastering Monitoring Board Guide. 

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