Boundary Management

An Extensive Policy GovernanceĀ® Resource for Boards of Directors

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Featured Question: How hierarchical is Policy Governance?

Answer: Policy Governance is hierarchical, but it is less so than almost all other governance approaches. One approach to governance could be defined as less hierarchical, where the Executive is also the Chair of the Board. However, it is challenged by accountability and is quickly being discarded by many Boards. Although some governance approaches place the Executive as a partner with the Board, this is only a pseudo-relationship. Boards can't give away their responsibility. The Executive can participate but only at the discretion of the Board. In the end, if things go wrong, the Board will hold the Executive accountable; that is not an equal relationship. If it comes to a vote, the Board wins.

Why do I say that Policy Governance is less hierarchical than other approaches? It is because of its approach to delegation. Traditional governance first defines the Executive's responsibilities and whatever is left belongs to the Board. Policy Governance first defines the Board's responsibilities and whatever is left belongs to the Executive. This difference creates much more authority for the Executive. It is still hierarchical but much less so than traditional governance. The traditional approach creates a much greater separation in authority than Policy Governance.

Why is traditional governance seen as less hierarchical than Policy Governance? The lack of clarity of traditional governance allows this misperception to continue. However, this is also a sign that suggests the difference in authority is great. In traditional governance, the Board doesn't have to worry about any confusion because they can have all the authority they need at any time. If the levels of authority were closer, then the confusion would be felt by the Board in a much more immediate way.

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