There are two perspectives
to this question. The first is from the board's perspective and the
second is from the individual's perspective. Neither are well
understood. Boards identify owners as those individuals or groups of
individuals to which they listen in terms of Ends. The definition of
whom the owners are, is often left to the board as that the owners are not
usually well defined nor well delineated. Owners define why the organization
exists. If there are no clear guidelines or linkages from the board to
the owners, then definition falls within the prerogative of the board to
It simply becomes whom ever the board thinks are the owner, are the owners.
Depending on the
organization and the linkage from the board to the owners, owners might
speak to limitations as well. Certainly, this would be at a more
global level than from which the board would speak, but there is nothing
within Policy Governance that limits the owners from speaking to
restrictions on means. For membership organizations, where the owners
are more clearly identified and have a more defined role in governance, this
may be a very desirable approach.
The other side of this question is from the
individual's perspective rather than the board's. How does an owner
act? Certainly to be an owner, there must be an emotional connection
in some way to the organization. That emotional connection doesn't
have to have a well defined reason, just that an emotional connection
exists. However, emotional connections are difficult to identify unless they
are defined behaviorally. So what do owners do that identify them as
Owners first and foremost give without being asked, or they give more than
they are asked. This is not just in dollars but may be in time and
energy. They believe in the value of the benefit that the organization
has identified as an End, or something close to it. They don't think
in terms of dues or fees, but in terms of investing in the what the
organization can achieve. They see organizations as a method to
accomplish something good for people.
Owner behavior may sound idealistic, but it
is embedded in most organizations'
structure but is difficult to get at except through Policy Governance. In
some ways, ownership has become a lost art. Currently, the belief that
one can function at the owner level is difficult to accept. When
someone asks, "So what do you get out of this?," they are already working
from an assumption that people have to receive an individual reward for
their participation. It begs the question.
One of the values that
Policy Governance offers is that individuals may learn to be owners rather
than customers. This is certainly the emphasis that the
International Policy Governance Association is placing on
creating owner-accountable boards. It also appears to be a chicken and
egg issue. Which comes first, owners or owner accountable boards?
It is pretty clear that they work together, either to the positive or to the
negative. If boards do not recognize owners, over time the owners will
lose this sense of identify. If owners, do not respond to boards, over
time boards will be self-focused rather than owner focused. It is an
One last point, are you an owner if the
board doesn't recognize you as an owner? My answer is yes. You
certainly don't have the voice in the organization that a board recognized
owner would have, but ownership is as much a personal identity as a
recognition from another group. Owner-accountability will occur when
both owners and boards recognize that they work together to ensure the
definition and the achievement of the Ends.
Lynn A. Walker, Ph.D.
Boundary Management Consulting
12411 McKelvey Road
St. Louis MO 63146-2929
Previous Featured Questions