Policy Governance Model
Volunteer Board members are generally poorly informed about the nature of their role, and the MBD Directors recognized this in themselves from a survey they completed in 2004. Directors looked for models they could study and adopt, but found only one model that was complete enough.
Directors chose to base MBD governance on John Carver’s Policy Governance® Model: it is comprehensive, well documented, and has training resources available. Six other Districts of the UUA have adopted either Carver’s Policy Governance® Model, or versions of it.
The Carver Policy Governance® Model focuses on promoting accountability, clarity regarding roles & responsibilities, and a process for evaluating performance that maintains right relationship. It is uncompromisingly explicit in its use of meticulous language, because careless usage leads to misunderstanding that can compromise right relationship and organizational performance.
As of December 8, 2007, we adopted the "Ends" for district policy found at this link.
Basic Concepts of Policy Governance®
Governance: According to Dr. Carver, the job of the Board is to ensure that the organization achieves what its owners want it to achieve and avoids what its owners want it to avoid, causing the organization to be what the owners want it to be. This gives owners authoritative control over the organization. In the MBD, the owners are the 55 member congregations as represented by their elected and called leaders (presidents and ministers). Note: This does not mean the Board cannot lead. Carver says boards decide what to do based on what owners want OR based on what owners would want if they knew all the details and information the Board knows.
Boards: The organizational structure that does the work of governance. Boards are accountable for the performance of the organization to its owners. Boards delegate the actual performance of the work to staff and set expectations about staff performance by explicitly writing out their expectations in “policies.”
Staff: In the MBD the paid staff (District Executive, Director of Program Development, Administrator, Program Support Coordinator, etc.) and all volunteers working with them are staff.
CEO: The Chief Executive Officer is the single link between the Board and the staff/organization. In the MBD the “CEO” is the District Executive, Susan Philliips.
Policy Breadth and Detail: Carver says to control only what you must control and not all you can control. He states that the more you try to control (with more policies and more detail), the more cost you add to the Board’s and the Executive’s jobs. Here is the question he advises using when evaluating a policy: Can we accept any reasonable interpretation of this?
Policies: These written documents cover four sets of expectations:
- Ends: The organization’s purpose (what good, for whom, and at what cost?)
- Limitations on Staff Means: Constraints that spell out only what means may not be used to achieve Ends (e.g., unethical, illegal, unprofessional, or imprudent means may not be used).
- Board Job Description and Process: Expectations about what the Board will do, how it will do it, what sorts of behavior are unacceptable, and how it will evaluate itself and discipline itself (i.e., hold itself accountable).
- Board - Staff Link: Specifies what is delegated to staff and how the staff will be monitored for performance (i.e., the governance – management relationship.)
Ends: Carver does not like Mission/Vision/Goals language since it does not distinguish between Ends and Means. An End must answer three questions in order to be an End:
- What difference, result, good, or benefit will it achieve?
- For whom (what person(s), beneficiaries, or customers) will it achieve this?
- What is its cost, priority, or worth? (This can be stated as a relative priority or cost, such as at a cost no higher than the average of like districts.)
Means: These are defined as anything that is not an End! Note that the distinction between “what” and “how” does not always serve to distinguish ends and means, since the cost/worth portion of an end can hint at a “how.” Board policies regarding means are worded positively as Governance Policies, while executive policies regarding means are worded negatively as Executive Limitations (e.g., “The District Executive shall not…”). This serves to empower staff and avoid micro-management.
Board Temperament: Policy Governance® requires that Board members possess a special temperament based on the Board’s job (as documented in policies). Criteria used for Board member selection should spell out the attributes needed. Miriam Carver recommends the following criteria for Board member selection:
- Conceptual ability
- Interest in the future (versus the past)
- Ability and desire to speculate about the future
- Enjoys exploring and arguing diverse points of view
- Able to assert a point of view
- Able to live with any decision made by the majority (and support it to the organization)
- Rigorous about judging performance
- Fair about using only pre-established criteria to judge performance
- Able to weigh importance of decisions being made and still make hard decisions (e.g., which people will get life-saving drugs and which won’t)
- Moral courage and ethical integrity to hold self accountable and hold other Board members accountable
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