The point was made earlier in this paper that the board is accountable that the organization works. Clearly, the word “works” must be defined; defining it establishes the board’s expectations for the organizations, the performance that will constitute success. The board need not control everything, but it must control the definition of success. It is possible to control too much, just as it is possible to control too little. It is possible to think you are in control when you are not. The zeal of a conscientious board can lead to micro-management. The confidence of a trusting board can lead to rubber stamping. Defining success is a matter of controlling for success, not for everything. How can a board control all it must, rather than all it can?
Boards have had a very hard time knowing what to control and how to control it. Policy Governance provides a key conceptual distinction that enables the board to resolve this quandary. The task is to demand organizational achievement in a way that empowers the staff, leaving to their creativity and innovation as much latitude as possible. This is a question of what and how to control, but it is equally a question of how much authority can be safely given away. We argue that the best guide for the board is to give away as much as possible, short of jeopardizing its own accountability for the total.
What is there to control? In any organization, there are uncountable numbers of issues, practices, and circumstances being decided daily by someone. The Policy Governance model posits that all of these decisions can be classified as those that define organizational purpose, and those that don’t. But the model calls for a very narrow and careful definition of purpose: it consists of what (1) results for which (2) recipients at what (3) worth.
Let us define these more fully: Some decisions directly describe the intended consumer results of the organization, for example, reading skills, family harmony, knowledge, or shelter from the elements. Some decisions directly describe the intended recipients of such results, such as adolescents, persons with severe burns, or low income families. Some describe the worth of the intended results, such as in dollar cost or priority against other results.
In Policy Governance, this triad of decisions is called “ends.” Ends are always about the changes for persons to be made outside the organization, along with their cost or priority. Ends never describe the organization itself or its activities. For example, the professional and technical activities in which the organization engages are not ends. In a school, for example, which students should acquire what knowledge at what cost are ends issues. Ends are about the organization’s impact on the world (much like cost-benefit) that justify its existence.
Any decision that is not an ends decision is a “means” decision. In that same school, the choice of reading program, teachers’ credentials, and classroom arrangement are means issues. Most decisions in an organization are means decisions; some are very important means. But even if a decision is extremely important, even if it is required by law, even if it is critical to survival, unless it passes the ends test (designation of consumer results, which consumers, or the worth of consumer results), it is not an ends decision. Hence, means include personnel matters, financial planning, purchasing, programs, services and curricula, and even governance itself. No organization was ever formed so it could be well governed, have good personnel policies, a fine budget, sound purchasing practices, or even nicely planned services, programs or curricula.
The ends/means distinction is critical. Many boards claiming to use the model routinely confuse the Policy Governance meaning of ends and means, thereby sacrificing much of the benefit the model can give. For example, means is not synonymous with “administration” as some have misinterpreted (Herman and Heimovics, 1991, p. 44). Ends is not synonymous with “strategic plan,” as others have misinterpreted (Murray, 1994). The ends/means distinction is not comparable to any other distinction used in management or governance; it is not parallel to policies/procedures, strategies/tactics, policy/administration, or goals/objectives. Indeed, ends may include very small and specific decisions about a single consumer, while means may include very important programmatic decisions as well as how a board constructs its committees. The ends/means distinction is exclusively peculiar to Policy Governance (with the possible exception of Argenti, 1993) and, therefore, is governed by Policy Governance principles. In Policy Governance,means are means simply because they are not ends.
Are ends the same as mission? Unfortunately, the answer is usually “no,” because mission statements have not traditionally had to conform to the definition we have given ends. Consider the following mission statement of a mental health center: “The mission of the XYZ Center is to be a responsible employer, providing quality mental health services in a cost-efficient manner.” This statement—quite acceptable in traditional governance—is entirely means, no ends. This organization can fulfill its mission even if consumers’ lives are not any better. In contrast, consider this broad statement of ends: “The XYZ Center exists so that people with major mental illness live productive lives in an accepting community at a cost comparable to other providers.” In the latter, unless the targeted group are benefited in the required way, the organization is not successful, no matter how good an employer it is and no matter how much “quality” its services have. Notice that the cost component in the first statement is the cost of staff activity (services), while in the second statement it is the cost of consumer results.
No matter how central ends are to the organization’s existence, however, because the board is accountable for everything, it is accountable for means as well. Accordingly, it must exercise control over both ends and means, so having the ends/means distinction does not in itself relieve boards from any responsibility. The ends/means distinction does, however, make possible two entirely different ways of exercising control, ways that—taken together—allow the board to have its arms responsibly around the organization without its fingers irresponsibly in it, ways that for the staff maximize accountability and freedom simultaneously. The board simply makes decisions about ends and means—that is, it controls the organization’s ends and means—in different ways, as follows:
- a. Using input from the owners, staff, experts and anyone in a position to increase the board’s wisdom, the board makes ends decisions in a proactive, positive, prescriptive way. We will call the board documents thus produced “Ends policies.”
- b. Using input from whoever can increase board wisdom about governance, servant leadership, visioning, or other skills of governance and delegation, the board makes means decision about its own job in a proactive, positive, prescriptive way. We will call the board documents thus produced “Governance Process policies” (about the board’s own job) and “Board-Staff Linkage policies” (about the relationship between governance and management). Both of these categories are means, but they concern means of the board, not the staff.
- c. Using input from whoever can increase its sense of what can jeopardize the prudent and ethical conduct of the organization, the board makes decisions about the staff’s means in a proactive, but negative and boundary-setting way. Because these policies set forth the limits of acceptable staff behavior, that is, the unacceptable means, we will call the board documents thus produced “Executive Limitations policies.”
At this point in our argument, we have used the ends/means concept to introduce new categories of board policies. These categories of board policies are exhaustive, that is, no other board documents are needed to govern except bylaws. (Articles of incorporation or letters patent are required to establish the nonprofit as a legal entity, but these are documents of the government, not the board.) We will not discuss bylaws here, except to say they are necessary to place real human beings (board members) into a hollow legal concept (the corporate “artificial person”) (Carver, 1995). However, so that we might continue to discuss the concepts represented by the words “ends” and “means,” yet distinguish the titles of policy categories, we will capitalize Ends, Executive Limitations, Governance Process, and Board-Staff Linkage.
The negative policies about operational means requires further discussion. Here is the logic: If the board has established Ends and has determined through monitoring that those Ends are actually accomplished, it can be argued that the staff means must have worked. In other words, the means by which Ends were accomplished, though interesting, is of little importance to the board. This logic is largely accurate, but there is an important problem with it. Some means can be unacceptable even if they do work. Means that are effective, but still “unacceptable” are ones that are improper treatment of people or assets, that is, means that are imprudent or unethical. Consequently, although there is no reason for a board to control staff means decisions for reasons of effectiveness, there is reason to control staff means for reasons of prudence and ethics.
Whoever is directly responsible for producing ends must decide which means to use. That is, one must be prescriptive about one’s own means. But the board is not charged with producing ends, only with defining them. It is to the board’s advantage to allow the staff maximum range of decision-making about means, for skill to do so is exactly why staff were employed. If the board determines the means of its staff, it can no longer hold the staff fully accountable for whether ends are achieved, it will not take advantage of the range of staff skills, and it will make its own job more difficult. Happily, it is not necessary for the board to tell the staff what means to use. In Policy Governance the board tells the staff or—more accurately—the Pastor what means not to use!
Therefore, it is the board’s job to examine its values to determine those means which it does not want in its organization, then to name them. The board can then tell its Pastor that as long as the Ends are accomplished and the unacceptable means do not occur, the Pastor can make all further decisions in the organization that he or she deems wise. It is in this way that extensive, albeit explicitly circumscribed, authority is granted to the Pastor. Effectiveness demands a strong Pastor; prudence and accountability to the board demand that the Pastor’s power be bounded.
This unique delegation technique has a number of advantages. First, it recognizes that board interference in operational means makes ends harder and more expensive to produce. Therefore, delegation which minimizes such interference is in the board’s interest. Second, it accords to the Pastor as much authority as the board can responsibly grant. Therefore, there is maximum empowerment inside the organization to harness for ends achievement. Third, it gives room for managerial flexibility, creativity and timeliness. Therefore, the organization can be agile, able to respond quickly to emergent opportunities or threats. Fourth, it dispels the assumption that the board knows better than the staff what means to use. Therefore, the board does not have to choose between overwork and being amateurs supervising professionals. Fifth, in this system all means that are not prohibited are, in effect, pre-approved. Therefore, the board is relieved from meticulous and repetitive approval of staff plans. Sixth, and perhaps most importantly, by staying out of means decisions, except to prohibit unacceptable means, the board retains its ability to hold the Pastor accountable for the decisions that take place in the system.
Thus, when we say a board is responsible that its organization works, we simply mean that the organization (1) accomplishes the intended results for the intended people at the intended cost or priority—expressed in the board’s Ends policies; and that it (2) avoids unacceptable methods, conduct, activities, and circumstances—unacceptable means expressed in the board’s Executive Limitations policies.
Expressing Expectations in Nested Sets