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Featured Question - September 1, 2003

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Can a board that is moving to Policy Governance start by identifying Ends rather than the suggested process of starting with the other three policy categories?


A board can start anywhere it wants to start, and there is some logic to starting with Ends.  Probably the most important thing to consider is for what a board has the most energy.  There are strengths and weaknesses to either approach.

The argument for starting with the other three policy categories is that by defining them first, the board is freed up to concentrate on the work necessary to identify Ends.  This would be especially true for boards that have large board agendas.  Unless they somehow get a handle on better managing their governance process they will not have time for the work of Ends.  Policy Governance provides a way to effectively focus on what is critical and what is not. 

The downside of starting with the other three policy categories is that the board may simply quit once these are done.  All of their energy went into this effort.  many Policy Governance boards take another two or three years before they get back to looking at Ends with any real deliberation.  However well intentioned a board is, the skill development needed by a board to manage the new processes consumes most of the free time that was gained.  However, a similar occurrence happens when a board starts with Ends.  it is not unlikely that a board will run out of steam once it has the Ends identified, to only come back to the other policies at a later date.

There is a case for starting with Ends.  Ends hold more importance than limitations or board processes ever will.  As a board clarifies the organization's Ends the more easily a board, as well as everyone else can identify with that organization.  Even if some board members disagree with the Ends, this is a healthy sign of organizational identify.  It is a sign that the Ends have meaning and represent a value for people. 

By starting with the Ends, the board creates an accountability for itself that doesn't exist when they start with the other three policy categories.  The achievement of Ends apply to the board as well as to the executive.  This is one the meanings of being owner-accountable.  Although possible and logical, it is rare for boards to be accountable to owners for compliance with limitations on means.  The executive is accountable to the board for the accomplishment of the Ends, just as the board is accountable to the owners for the accomplishment of the Ends.  Even when there is no real connection to the owners, boards have a sense that they are accountable for Ends.

Ends add something that limitations and board processes will never be able to do for an organization; they give it meaning.  Limitations, by their very nature, do not determine meaning for an organization, except for identifying that the organization has avoided the unethical and the imprudent.  This is one of the pitfall of boards that enact everything but the Ends.  They have yet to gain the energy and focus that Ends can provide for an organization.  To say that their organizations are meaningless goes too far, but they are certainly operating with a fuzzy or foggy sense of direction.

This definition of meaning that Ends provide is the catalyst that help organizations focus on identifying the causal factors of accomplishing the Ends.  this is true, even without limitations or board processes.  When an organization is not accomplishing what it believes is its reason for being, the Ends, a tension or stress will arise that will motivate people to move in a direction to reduce it.  When a board starts with Ends, they create a very different type of energy for themselves.

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