To Approve…or Not to Approve?
What’s Your Problem?
This is a forum to present your “conundrums” to AGI for our feedback. By sharing here, you may help a fellow district with the same challenge! Do you have a “problem” to present? Reply to this post or email us.
From a long-time client: “One of the things I liked most about Coherent Governance from the outset was the idea that the board would get out of the approval business, delegating to the superintendent every decision not required by law or by the board itself. In my mind, this is where clear accountability is created. But now, after a few years of working in CG, I’m seeing more and more approvals show up on our agendas, most of them about completely routine operational matters, none of which are required by anyone. Help me understand what is happening here!”
Unfortunately, we cannot explain why these approval requests are happening! But we can say that aside from some superintendents’ submitting monitoring reports filled with process disguised as evidence of compliance or reasonable progress, this is the most egregious misapplication of CG principles we see. And in our mind, it borders on mockery and the demise of the model itself for the district.
Why such a strong statement? This is why: CG was created in large measure as a tool to build absolute role clarity, eliminating confusion about both authority and accountability of the CEO. Board approval of matters delegated to the CEO destroys that accountability, since one of the essential principles of CG is that the party who makes a decision is accountable for the result. Board approvals constitute decisions.
Every client has a policy that reads something very close to this:
“As long as the Superintendent uses any reasonable interpretation of the Board’s Results and Operational Expectations policies, the Superintendent is authorized to establish any additional district policies or regulations, make any decisions, establish any practices and develop any activities the Superintendent deems appropriate to achieve the Board’s Results policies. The Superintendent is not expected to seek Board approval or authority for any such decisions falling within the Superintendent’s area of delegated authority” (BSR-4).”
We fully understand why superintendents may be skittish about making delegated decisions without board approvals. It’s a different concept of managing without the safety net of board approvals. It’s much more “comfortable” for a superintendent to have the board on record as supporting a tough decision. But superintendents and other CEOs can’t have it both ways. They can’t welcome added authority to make decisions when it’s convenient to do so, only to invite boards back into operations through the approval process when issues are more controversial.
But neither can boards have it both ways. Boards cannot demand the right to approve superintendent decisions, and at the same time hold the superintendent accountable for decisions the board itself approved. If both the board and superintendent share in making the same decision, either no one is accountable, or everyone is accountable—and roles again are completely muddied.
Our best advice to superintendents: take the board at its word. Believe that it meant what it said in BSR-4. If controversy ensues, the policy itself is the superintendent’s best defense. But as the superintendent is making decisions without the board’s approval, he or she must be diligent about keeping the board fully informed of those decisions. It is foolhardy to run wild, making unilateral decisions just because one can, without fully informing the board. That is a recipe for trouble.
Our best advice to boards: the board agenda is the board’s agenda. The board president, at least, should have a strong role in deciding what goes on the agenda and what does not. It is the president’s obligation, stated in policy, to assure that the board remains focused on board business, not on superintendent business. This is where the first “cut” should be made to keep delegated decisions off the board’s agenda.
But if a recommendation does slip through the cracks and finds its way onto the proposed action agenda, every member has the obligation to call that out and move to have such items removed from the agenda. To accept the responsibility of approving someone else’s delegated decision is to accept that party’s accountability. That does no one any good, and further confuses roles.