Boundary Management

An Extensive Policy GovernanceĀ® Resource for Boards of Directors

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Featured Question: What does it mean to be an Owner? How do I recognize one, and how do I know if I am one?

Answer: There are two perspectives to this question. The first is from the Board's perspective, and the second is from the individual's perspective. Neither are well understood. Boards identify Owners as those individuals or groups of individuals to which they listen in terms of Ends. The definition of whom the Owners are is often left to the Board as the Owners are not usually well defined nor well delineated. Owners define why the organization exists. If there are no clear guidelines or linkages from the Board to the Owners, then the definition falls within the prerogative of the Board to interpret. It simply becomes whomever the Board thinks the Owners are, are the Owners.

Owners might speak to limitations as well. Certainly, this would be at a more global level than from which the Board would speak, but nothing within Policy Governance limits the Owners from speaking to restrictions on means. This may be a desirable approach for membership organizations, where the Owners are more clearly identified and have a more defined role in governance.

The other side of this question is from the individual's perspective rather than the Board's. How does an Owner act? Certainly, there must be an emotional connection to the organization to be an owner. That emotional connection doesn't have to have a well-defined reason, just that an emotional connection exists. However, emotional connections are difficult to identify unless they are defined behaviorally. So what do Owners do that identify them as Owners?

Owners first and foremost give without being asked, or they give more than they are asked. This is not just in dollars but may be in time and energy. They believe in the value of the benefits that the organization has identified as the Ends. They don't think about dues or fees but investing in what the organization can achieve. They see organizations as a method to accomplish something good for people.

Owner behavior may sound idealistic. However, it exists in every organization; it is difficult to get at except through Policy Governance. In some ways, ownership has become a lost art. The belief that one can function at the Owner level is difficult to accept. When someone asks, "So what do you get out of this?" they assume that people have to receive a reward for their participation. It begs the question.

One of Policy Governance's values is that individuals may learn to be Owners rather than customers. However, which comes first, Owners or owner accountable Boards? They work together, either in the positive or in the negative. If Boards do not recognize Owners, the Owners will lose this sense of identity over time. If Owners do not respond to Boards, Boards will become self-focused rather than Owner focused. It is an interactive effect.

One last point, are you an Owner if the Board doesn't recognize you as an Owner? My answer is yes. You certainly don't have the voice in the organization that a Board recognized Owner would have, but ownership is as much a personal identity as recognition from another group. Owner-accountability will occur when both Owners and Boards recognize that they work together to ensure the definition and the achievement of the Ends.

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