Saturday, April 27, 2019

The Carver Guide Series on Effective Board Governance by John Carver and Miriam Mayhew Carver

Back in 2007 I read Boards That Make a Difference, which lays out the Carver Model of Policy Governance in book form. This series is comprised of twelve short pamphlets, intended to be read by Board members, that explains and accentuates important portions of that overall Model.

The association I work for has been using its own adapted form of the Carver Model for a number of years now, so reading this series was a good refresher for me. Here are the things I felt we could, and probably should, be doing a better job on.

Screening Questions

This is from the pamphlet on “Planning Better Board Meetings.”

The first screening question is, What category issue is this? Is it an issue of intended effects in the world? An executive means issue? An issue of the governance job itself? Or an issue of how governance connects with management? Answering the category question concretely labels the issue as, respectively, one of ends, executive limitations, governance process, or board-staff linkage. An issue that either does not fit into one of these or does fit into more than one is not yet adequately stated.

The second screening question is, What has the board already said in this category, and how is the issue at hand related? This question looks not only at the content of existing board policy but at the breadth or level of that policy. Content is inspected to determine (1) whether the board has already dealt with the issue and, if so, in what way and (2) whether the issue at hand is several levels of abstraction below current board policy or simply the next level lower. The board must, in short, stay closely in touch with its existing policies. Having only a relatively few, brief policies enables a board not so much to have policies but to live out of them.

These questions are intended to screen issues before they get placed on the Board’s agenda. The first ensures that the issue is within the Board’s scope and the second ensures that any discussion held in done in the context of what the Board has already decided.

Ends Policy

This was inspired by the pamphlet on “Board Assessment of the CEO.”

I mentioned that the association I work for has been using its own adapted form of the Carver Model for a number of years now. In that regard, we have adopted the following statement in our governance policy:

“Ends” determination is a pivotal duty of the Board. The Board will determine what results are to be achieved, for whom, and at what cost, and clearly express these “ends” in the mission, strategic priorities, ends statements, success indicators, and budget of the association.

To be honest, it is a way of bridging the specific language and format of an ends policy recommended by the Carver Model and the more general language and format that we had become accustomed to within the association. In other words, we didn’t have “ends”, but we did have a mission and a set of strategic priorities that acted very much like ends, although without the measurable specificity of the ends described in the Carver Model. The bridge allowed us to more easily adopt pieces of the Carver Model without radically changing the things we discussed and decided around the Board table.

But several examples of ends policies in this Carver series have made me question the wisdom of that approach. Adopting the language and format of the examples may provide greater clarity at the Board table regarding what it is we are trying to achieve, because it would force us to nest our mission, strategic priorities, ends statements, success indicators, and budget in one comprehensive policy document -- rather than scatter them across multiple documents they way we currently do.

Here’s a sample of what our Ends Policy might look like if I adopted the format of the Carver examples:

Board Policy Title: “Mission”
Policy Type: Ends

The mission of the National Fluid Power Association is to strengthen the fluid power industry for an annual expenditure of $3,596,988.
1. Efforts to provide an effective forum for fluid power manufacturers, distributors and suppliers to advance their collective interests will not exceed more than 21% of annual expenditures.
2. Efforts to provide our members with timely and accurate industry statistics and business intelligence that support improved decision-making will not exceed more than 18% of annual expenditures.
3. Efforts to provide opportunities and resources for our members to promote the unique strengths and inherent advantages offered by modern fluid power technology will not exceed more than 3% of annual expenditures.
4. Efforts to help increase the number of technical college and university students educated in fluid power and connect them to careers in the fluid power industry will not exceed more than 28% of annual expenditures.
5. Securing the general and administrative needs of the association will not exceed more than 30% of annual expenditures.

This takes our mission and ends statements and connects them directly to the budget allocations we have made to support them. Then, in keeping with the examples provided in the series, each of the points above would have their own ends policy. For example:

Board Policy Title: “Effective Forum”
Policy Type: Ends

The success of efforts to provide an effective forum for fluid power manufacturers, distributors and suppliers to advance their collective interests will be determined by:
1. At the end of the current fiscal year, there will be at least 346 members in the association, at least 5 of which will be suppliers of IoT technologies or services.
2. Overall satisfaction with the association on each member satisfaction survey will be at least 4.00.
3. The average participation score of manufacturer members will be at least 3.5, distributor members at least 3.0, and supplier members at least 2.0.
4. The percent of manufacturer members with a participation score of zero will be more than 10%, distributor members no more than 10%, and supplier members no more than 15%.
5. The percent of manufacturer members that have an active representative on one of our leadership committees will be at least 30%, distributor members at least 25%, and supplier members at least 20%.
6. The percent of member companies with an active participant in our Future Leaders Network will be at least 20%.
7. The percent of manufacturer members that send at least one representative to the Annual Conference will be at least 33%, distributor members at least 50%, and supplier members at least 25%.
8. The percent of attendees that agree the Annual Conference delivered good ROI on post-conference evaluations will be at least 90%.
9. The percent of manufacturer members that send at least one representative to at least one Regional Meeting per year will be at least 25%, distributor members at least 25%, and supplier members at least 25%.

This comprehensively lists the success indicators and corresponding goals that the Board has set and connects them to each ends statement. Would these documents, I wonder, be easier for the Board to get its head around that the multiple charts and pages that they are currently forced to go through?

Revisiting the Governance Policy

This is from the pamphlet on “Board Self-Assessment.”

One board of education in West Virginia decided to read its governance style policy aloud at the beginning of every meeting! For a board that has just read its own words -- pledging, for example, not to engage in determining staff means -- going ahead and doing so in the next agenda item is considerably harder to do! But no matter what technique you employ, it is amazing how much you can accomplish simply by coming back routinely to what you said you would do.

My association has a “governance style policy,” and it is included on the agenda for every Board meeting, although it is given about as much attention as the review of the anti-trust policy. It makes we wonder if we should take one item for the governance policy per meeting and really dig into it. Are we doing this effectively? How?

Dimensions of Diversity

Finally, this is from the pamphlet on “Making Diversity Meaningful in the Boardroom.”

Very few nonprofit or public boards govern on their own behalf. Ordinarily, boards exercise their authority as a kind of stewardship on behalf of others. In other words, there is some population that, at least in a moral sense if not a legal one, “owns” the organization.

Owners -- even if unorganized, unrecognized, and often undefined -- constitute the primary object of board allegiance and its source of moral authority. The board-ownership relationship is the essential, defining relationship of a board. Board members stand in for the ownership, operating on its behalf. The board can be seen as a microcosm of the ownership, a workable subpart of an awkwardly large group. It is therefore important to identify the ownership group.

The diversity relevant to board composition and conduct is the diversity of the owners, not the diversity of consumers, of staff, or of other groups. It is not that diversity in these other groups is ignored by the board, just that the board does not represent them.

This is something my association already does quite well, I think, making sure the diversity of the Board reflects the diversity of the membership. I wanted to include it here because it is such an essential point, and one I tried to champion when I was the Board chair of the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives.

Diversity is an important component of effective governance, innovation, and decision-making, but the diversity that matters most is the one that exists in the current membership. Every organization, therefore, has the potential to define a different set of “dimensions of diversity” that are uniquely important to it. Those dimensions would be quite different in a trade association whose members are five multinational corporations than in a professional society whose members are fifty thousand practitioners.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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