When I started studying John Carver’s Policy Governance in 2007, the topic of governance was unfashionable and very misunderstood amongst club and NFP boards and senior management circles. It was an exciting time as the practice of governance had the potential to provide a catalyst for breakthrough in organisations that were ‘stuck’.
The true potential of breakthrough governance has been hijacked. Good governance is seen primarily as having the right sort of processes, procedures, charters and policies to tick boxes. It is seen as boring. I agree with Steve Bowman of Conscious Governance who states, “This notion of governance focuses on governance as a… series of checks and balances …the fiduciary oversight of assets.”
"Breakthrough governance is the ability to make advantageous decisions to achieve your organisation’s vision at that point in time."
Checks and balances and fiduciary oversight assist good governance, but on their own do not make good governance. Breakthrough governance is the ability to make advantageous decisions to achieve your organisation’s vision at that point in time. In Bowman’s words, choices that create the future for the community you serve. The check, balances, processes and oversight contribute to making advantageous decisions, but there is more.
Governance textbooks often state there are three principal tasks of a board, and I argue that there is actually four.
Monitor and Evaluate
To realise the definition of breakthrough governance you will need to know your vision – strategy. You’ll need to know what’s going on – monitoring and evaluation. You’ll need to have decision making processes, budgets and someone to implement – control through policies and a manager’s job description. Lastly, you need to make choices for the future – leadership.
In all the books I have read, leadership is not on the list. Leadership is one of the most important aspects of breakthrough. There are all kinds of leadership and your board needs a mix. Not everyone can be an innovative leader as that leads to chaos. Not everyone can be a ‘trust leader’ as there will be no one left to be skeptical. All leaders think they are the most important type of leader, and not all types of leaders like each other. Board members and even employees do not have to ‘click’. For breakthrough governance, it is preferable to have passionate debate rather than sleepy head-nodding. I like to move fast and take risks. Others like to move slow and be sure. That balance of approach is why we have boards of people.
A board cannot have breakthrough governance without equal attention to each of these four tasks – strategy, control, monitoring and evaluation, and leadership. More attention and consideration than can be covered in a one-off seminar or online training course.
"The implications in avoiding hijacked governance is enormous. Firstly, the predictable, safe and unmoveable old guard will get upset. This is good. Because the old guard are killing organisations."
The implications in avoiding hijacked governance is enormous.
Firstly, the predictable, safe and unmoveable old guard will get upset. This is good. Because the old guard are killing organisations. The old guard do not like the future. The old guard are in love with the past. The old guard take up space on too many boards and occupy too many management positions. The old guard meet someone like me and do their best to put their head back in the sand, although they're absolute advocates when we've broken through and found a new exciting path.
Secondly, once you learn about, understand and embrace the highly interwoven nature of strategy, control, monitoring and evaluation, and leadership, your organisation will breakthrough its inertia. Then you, too, will look around and see how breakthrough governance is being hijacked.
At the end of the day, the role of the board is not to meet and receive reports about how busy the senior executives have been that month and the detail on how the organisation may have been busy. They’re not there to read correspondence or be self-indulgent agenda-wielding interest-conflicters.
The role of the Board is to make the choices that create the future for the communities they serve. Creating the future is all about being aware of what is happening in the strategic environment, discussing the things that are likely to have an effect on your organisation and choosing what needs to be modified, created or stopped (Bowman, online).
To be able to do this, you need to understand and embrace strategy, put in place controls, have appropriate monitoring and evaluation, and mixed styles of leadership.
Shayne Leslie has over 18 years’ experience in registered clubs, not-for-profits, membership-based and arts organisations. In that time, her diverse career has included marketing, entertainment and events, membership, professional development and learning and, more recently, governance and strategy - experience backed by university qualifications. Shayne brings fresh interpretations to organisations that are stuck and is a prolific idea generator guiding others into uncharted territories. Shayne has achieved breakthrough for many clients and peak bodies through her boutique approach to governance, marketing and recruitment.