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Featured Question - December 1, 2003

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Do you have any ideas about how Policy Governance concepts might be useful to a Board in selecting a new Executive?


There are direct applications to executive selection through Policy Governance, specifically through the use of Ends and Limitation policies.  It does take a rethinking about selection, but that shift is identical to the shift the Policy Governance makes in delegation to the executive.  Instead of constructing a list of characteristics that a new executive should possess, the board focuses on identifying what would constitute failure for an executive and what would constitute success.  In the same way that Limitations focus on the boundary, boards need to be clear about the boundary between what it identifies as failure, and to use an independent criteria for success. 

If your board has implemented Policy Governance, the Limitation policies should be pretty close to the list for failure.  For example candidates should be able to manage the financial condition well enough, as defined by the policies.  Without a lot of effort a board should be able to put together a list that would identify candidates that have a likelihood of failing.  Using the same logic that Policy Governance uses to identify delegated authority, all candidates that don't have a likelihood of failing, must have a likelihood of succeeding or will at least produce neutral results.  This simple technique will dramatically improve a board's chances of selecting a candidate that will succeed.

There is one caveat to using only the Limitations as the basis for this list.  There may be areas for concern that are not clarified enough.  These are those concerns that are covered within the Mega-Limitation of ethics and prudence, but not further defined in further policies.  For example it would be unethical for the executive to lie to the board, and not necessary to identify this behavior in the board's governance of the organization.  However, it would be better to specifically identify these types of behavior prior to selecting a new executive. 

The next question to answer is how can a board determine whether a candidate has the ability to perform at an acceptable level or not.  One of the best ways is to use past performance or past behavior.  Obviously, what is needed to manage an organization that has 3000 employee is significantly different than what is needed to manage one that only has 30, so the type of past performance that is required will be different. 

Just as in Policy Governance where the Ends differ from the Limitations, the criteria used to select candidates that will succeed is different from the criteria used to remove candidates that have a strong likelihood of failing.  To help illustrate this point, the conditions that usually cause an executive to be terminated are not that he or she didn't achieve the established goals or Ends, but more likely that he or she mislead the board, mistreated staff, or failed to take initiative to correct problems early. 

Boards should look for candidates that have a commitment to the Ends.  Policy Governance will work better if executives are internally motivated to accomplish the Ends rather than externally motivated by compensation, benefits, or status.  Boards should look for candidates that have measured themselves and their organizations based on Ends-type of criteria.  Policy Governance is still not widely used, and therefore many candidates may not have had an opportunity to prove themselves under a Ends-driven organization, but many executives are already self-motivated to accomplish the Ends

This is really a pretty simple system.  From the pool of applicants, use Limitations to eliminate those that are likely to fail.  From those that are left, select the candidate that has the greatest proven commitment to and achievement of the organization's Ends.

Lynn A. Walker, Ph.D.
Boundary Management Consulting

12411 McKelvey Road
St. Louis MO 63146-2929

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