Most of our careers have been spent working with boards to help them perform better. The early years most often ended in frustration, both for the boards themselves and for us. We would work diligently with boards, helping members reach what seemed to be common understanding of roles and relationships. Then we would find that nothing “took;” behaviors degenerated and practices reverted to old ways of doing business at the first sign of organizational challenge.
What was missing?
They had no “operating system” within which to fit these new agreements and commitments. And without such a systematic, disciplined means for getting work done, human nature kicked in and behaviors began to look a lot like they had always looked.
This is the reason we built our own governance operating system, Coherent Governance®. CG is the tool to help boards actually govern their organizations from the level of policy. It allows boards to establish standards for their own performance, as well as for the entire organization. The board is expected to focus primarily on outcomes rather than operations, to hold their CEO accountable for achieving the board’s defined outcomes and to run the organization according to the board’s operational standards.
What is Coherent Governance®?
Coherent Governance® is AGI Aspen Group International’s own governance design. It is the most comprehensive, client-specific and practical governance model available for public and not-for-profit boards, the primary audience for which it was created.
Coherent Governance addresses the full breadth of operational issues and concerns. It establishes standards for such thorny issues as personnel administration and a school district’s treatment of students.
We work with our clients to identify and define their own unique values for outcomes and for operational standards. There is no “cherry picking” from state, federal or other organization’s outcomes and imposing them on the board to save time.
Coherent Governance is “user-friendly” and transparent. The policies are clearly stated and unambiguous, never challenging the board to say: “What this language is trying to say is …”
Coherent Governance boards effectively govern very complex organizations with a policy manual of not more than 30 to 35 policies–total.
The Coherent Governance board establishes governing policies and rigorously monitors organizational performance for compliance with its Operational Expectations policies and reasonable progress toward the achievement Results – its policies focused on outcomes.
The Coherent Governance model is built around four different
but interrelated types of policies, each serving a very distinct purpose:
RESULTS: Results policies define and describe the unique outcomes the organization is expected to achieve for the specific clients or customers it serves.
The Results policies are the performance targets for the CEO and the organization, and form the basis for judging the success of both.
OPERATIONAL EXPECTATIONS: The board wants to remove itself from preoccupation with the day-to-day operation of the organization. But yet, it has concerns about those operational matters that it must express in order to represent and serve the interests of the “owners” of the organization on whose behalf the board does its work—the citizens, in the case of public boards.
OE policies allow the board either to direct that certain conditions exist or actions occur, or to prohibit those conditions and actions that it would find unacceptable. Each OE policy has two components, one stated positively (“do this”), the other prohibitively (“don’t do this”). The result is clear direction from the board to the CEO at the highest level.
The CEO is encumbered to comply with the board’s stated values about operational conditions and actions. After having complied with those policy values, the CEO is free to make other decisions without seeking the board’s approval.
The board effectively controls operational decision-making without the confusing ritual of approving CEO recommendations that undermines clear accountability. In fact, Coherent Governance eliminates ambiguity about who is responsible for what.
BOARD/CEO RELATIONS: BCR policies define the degree of authority delegated by the board to the CEO, and also outline the process for how the CEO will be evaluated.
Essentially, the CEO’s performance and the organization’s performance are identical: if the organization succeeds in operating according to the board’s stated values, and if it produces the outcomes specified by the board in policy, the CEO has succeeded, and is evaluated accordingly. No more off-the-cuff, generic, dishonoring evaluations.
GOVERNANCE CULTURE: The board deliberately crafts a set of policies that, in sum, establish a culture for good governance.
Separate policies define the board’s purpose and accountability, its job description, its self-defined norms for conduct, and its own discipline process.
Why Consider the Coherent Governance® Model?
We believe there is a relationship between what happens in the boardroom and what happens at the operational level of the organization. Therefore, no board can afford to short-change its own training and capacity building.
For a poorly performing board to expect the organization to perform any better than it does is fantasy. Boards are obligated to perform at the highest level–and then demand similar performance from the organizations they govern.
Successful Implementation Makes These Promises:
- Role confusion between board and CEO will be eliminated;
- The board will add value to the organization it governs by focusing on the Results that are to be achieved and maintaining direct interface with stakeholders;
- The CEO and staff will be free to do their jobs without the board’s approving, reviewing, or redoing day-to-day decisions;
- The board’s bulky, unwieldy policy manual will be supplanted by very clear, dynamic and inclusive governing policies.
If Our Board Adopts Coherent Governance, is Successful Implementation Assured?
Our experienced consultation and training offers all the practical and theoretical tools a board should need to effectively implement Coherent Governance. But implementation attempts can fail. In the final analysis, your board is responsible for its own behavior and commitment, and no third party consultant can compensate for some of the reasons for failure.
We have seen these contributors to implementation failure:
- Lack of board commitment;
- Impatience with the challenge to do different work well;
- CEOs’ inability or refusal to assume the required authority and accountability;
- Dwelling on the model itself, rather than using it as a governing tool;
- Allowing members with a different agenda to sidetrack the board.
Doing anything new and different requires commitment, patience and willingness to give up old habits and customs in favor of the promise of better, more fulfilling work.
The Tangible Results of Coherent Governance Implementation
Your effort to govern well using Coherent Governance will result in:
- A new set of governing policies, which collectively set performance standards for the board, the organization, and the CEO;
- The board’s part of a strategic plan: Board definition of the Mission/Vision and Goals (Results), with Strategies and Actions delegated to the CEO and staff;
- A meaningful board self-assessment built on the board’s own self-determined standards of performance;
- An authentic CEO evaluation based entirely on the organization’s performance;
- A full year plan for board work, which will drive board meeting agendas for the next 12 months;
- A board job description;
- A CEO job description;
- A process for assessing the performance of every element of the organization’s operation;
- A process for evaluating reasonable progress toward achieving the board’s defined Results;
- A framework for building a strategic communications plan between the board and its owners and stakeholders.
All encompassed in a single, coherent system! Coherent Governance eliminates the need for boards to engage in multiple, uncoordinated projects. Planning, communicating, evaluating are all a part of the articulated, systemic and systematic whole.