Virtually all our clients are government or non-profit boards, their CEOs and senior staff. We enjoy and accept engagements with related entities, but in all instances our work focuses on governance, top-level strategic leadership, and accountable organizational performance.
A substantial portion of our work is with public school boards. We specialize in serving clients who choose to adopt our own model, Coherent Governance®.
We also offer custom governance work for boards that want to achieve excellent governance and organizational performance by developing new governance processes without affecting their existing traditional policies.
At this point, more than 90 percent of our work is centered on Coherent Governance, which we consider to be the single best method available to help boards effectively lead the organizations for which they are responsible.
Ginger offers considerable expertise and experience on assessments. She dives deep with our clients in determining what valid and reliable measures exist to demonstrate accountability for achieving organizational results.
Both models are aimed at the same thing: helping boards govern better. Both models are built around four types of policies: one creating the board’s own governing culture; one defining the CEO’s level of authority and accountability; one defining the board’s values about the organization’s operations; and one expressing the board’s expected outcomes for owners or clients.
The primary differences between the two models are in the Executive Limitations/Operational Expectations area. Coherent Governance includes policies dealing with operational areas of concern not accommodated by Policy Governance®, and the language of the OE policies includes both directives (“do this”) and prohibitions (“don’t do this”). This latter feature eliminates the “double negative” concern with Policy Governance Executive Limitations that some users feel creates awkward language issues.
Our experience has proved to us that organizations such as school boards and other public boards face issues and challenges that make them different from other types of boards in some important ways. They face fierce community scrutiny, legislative mandates, comparatively frequent leadership turnover, complex student needs, uncertain funding, and inadequate training. They deal with instructional issues, discipline issues, and staffing issues that are more complex than those faced by most non-public boards.
We believe that these public boards must have written policies that other boards may not need in order to express their values and concerns about the organizational actions and decisions they would find unacceptable. Coherent Governance assures that all important operational concerns are addressed, leaving no critical gaps. The board safely can delegate operational decision-making to its CEO with assurance that it will not need to dwell on day-to-day operations. It can govern, not manage the manager!
As with any consulting group, this can vary. Some of our clients plan a full year in advance, and set calendar commitments early to avoid conflicts. Others are less far-sighted. Normally, if a client knows six to eight weeks in advance when work is desired, we will be able to accommodate their preferences.
Most of our professional careers have been spent in service to or for school boards. We know the special challenge they face to achieve good governance: they usually are political; they are populated by lay people often with little or no board experience or education expertise; the organizations they serve are surprisingly complex; they account for a community’s greatest expenditure of tax dollars; and they have power over the welfare and success of our children. We believe the performance of these supremely important boards must be self-disciplined and properly focused on students and their achievement. We consider that to be a challenge worth meeting!
We have served clients with annual budgets ranging from $200,000 to more than $3 billion, from employing fewer than 10 employees to more than 45,000. We have discovered and validated over and over: regardless of the size or complexity of the organization, or even its type, a board is a board. All have unique challenges. All have unique characteristics. But when the issues that face boards are reduced to their lowest common denominator, there are many more commonalities among boards than there are differences.
Virtually all of our work is performed by us: Senior Partners, Linda J. Dawson and Dr. Randy Quinn. Linda is based in Gig Harbor, WA and Randy works out of Aspen’s Alabama office. We are joined by Associate Ginger Hopkins who is based in South Carolina.
Yes, most of the time we do. We believe our work in teams increases the quality of service our clients receive. We have differing expertise, strengths and styles that enhance our delivery and ability to connect with different special needs and personalities. We trade taking the lead, allowing each other moments for thinking, reflecting, supporting, weighing-in and recording the product of the discussion for immediate response to the client.
Aspen charges fixed fees for all its services, which in some cases vary based on the size, type and complexity of the organization: large organizations and boards are more complex and often require deeper levels of intervention and support than smaller ones. Most of our work is priced by project, rather than by day. Project work is priced individually based on the foregoing considerations, and usually results in greater economy for the client.