Would you buy 30-year-old technology?

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

The ad reads: “Car ‘phones. They’re no longer the privilege of the chosen few.” In 1982, I actually had one of these Vodaphone babies. I was climbing the corporate ladder of a Fortune 500 company in Chicago and got one installed in my company car. Yes, the company provided me with a personal car (every 50,000 miles I got a new one) and all the gas and maintenance (those really were the good old days). My employer was on the cutting edge of management effectiveness and efficiency. I was part of testing the technology.

My “mobile” car phone was the size and weight of a very large brick. And it was truly a car phone because the base was mounted to (and used power from) the car. I didn’t need to go to the gym to lift weights because the handset provided a good deal of dead weight training. Those of us testing the Vodaphone used to joke that if it quit working, it would make a great boat anchor. I’m surprised I never got whiplash from lifting the handset to my ear while driving. Okay, so yeah. If using your cellphone with your bluetooth is a driving hazard, just imagine how dangerous I was on Lakeshore Drive!

Now here’s what I carry around today: a phone that is not tethered to anything (except maybe my hand or earbuds). It’s about the weight of a pair of scissors and about the size of three packs of dental floss laid side-by-side. And it doesn’t merely connect me by voice-to-voice over cellular. It’s my personal data assistant, office manager, and personal entertainment center. It also responds to my whims. (Siri is my new love, but don’t tell my husband!)

So why do boards of all types and sizes still run with 30-year-old technology? Yes, the basics are still sound. Compare today’s smart phones with my car phone 30 years ago. Why would you choose to carry around a big, old brick that doesn’t do much versus a small, sleek device that caters to your every whim? Is your board functioning with a mindset from 30 years ago? Before you say no, consider this.  Nonprofit organizations proliferated in the 1980′s (Board Source, 2003). Much nonprofit regulation did too. Not surprising that governance structure, culture, and practices emanated from that period. Businessmen populated boards and they brought their management expertise to the boardroom. Unfortunately, management expertise does not necessarily translate to governing expertise. In the management mindset, governing is typically viewed as “management one level up” and tethers a board to the past instead of creating the future.

Why does it seem like transformational governance is still the privilege of the chosen few? Board members and executives, please throw the 30-year-old+ mindset out the window. C’mon now. Don’t say that you don’t know what I’m talking about. At association and nonprofit organization conferences, I still hear the same complaints that I was hearing 20 years ago. Here’s the chronic complaint: why does my board micromanage (i.e., get caught up in administrivia)? Because they don’t have anything more important to do. Because they haven’t found a way to delegate effectively and know their wishes for the organization will be fulfilled. Or, the board recently had a crisis that involved a major financial risk (e.g., embezzlement, lawsuit, the ED who was the “rainmaker” just left). The list goes on and on. People tend to revert to old, dysfunctional behaviors when they feel unsure or threatened or are just plain bored. Governing from this mindset is like picking up the Vodaphone and expecting to have Siri grant your next wish. Remember the implication when you expect different results from doing the same thing over and over again.

The magic of smart phone technology did not happen because Steve Jobs said, “Let’s redesign the Vodaphone!” The magic happened because Steve Jobs had a vision of something sleek, powerful, and ready to go to work for you out of the box. Why would you buy 30-year-old technology when you could have an iPhone?

Unleash the power of your board and explore how you can best use the collective wisdom of all those smart minds in the room. Don’t make them sit through one more staff report or approve one more budget until you think about why you’re asking them to do it. What is the value added? What magic could they envison if given the time?

 

Governance is a new word to many

Friday, January 29th, 2010

An acquaintance asked me yesterday what I do. “I work with board and executive leaders on a system of governance that helps them get rid of time-wasters and makes the most of the talent in the organization.” My acquaintance said that governance was a new term to her.

For those who are new to the concept, Tom Friedman offered an excellent quote in his New York Times Op-Ed column of January 5, 2010. The quote is “from Dov Seidman, the C.E.O. of LRN, which helps companies build ethical cultures, and the author of the book ‘How.’ ‘You have to enlist and inspire people in a set of values. People need to be governed both from the outside, through compliance with rules, and from the inside, inspired by shared values.’”

Sound like good governance to you?

So, what’s stopping you from practicing it? The problem I’ve encountered is that too often, bright and capable peoples’ skills and talents are wasted in board meetings discussing whether or not to purchase new office furniture or how many pieces of collateral were distributed at the last fundraiser. Discussions like these are about looking backward rather than creating a vision for the future. Discussions like these enervate, rather than inspire.

Are you tired of operating in a model of scarcity (not enough time, not enough money, not enough people…) and ready to move toward a model of abundance (stop focusing on the past, getting rid of the time-wasters and envisioning what you can achieve)?

Policy Governance® offers a system for governing boards to ensure that they are complying with outside rules and allows them to spend more time discussing what inspires the organization. Policy Governance gets the board beyond what is to what can be.

Democracy is messy

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

Last night, President Obama said that democracy is messy.

Democracy is messy. Governing boards represent democracy in action and the complexity of the process of representing diverse owners. That’s why governing boards need every available tool in their toolbox. Policy Governance® represents the most comprehensive body of thought on board leadership and governing.

Caroline Oliver cites Couto and Guthrie:

“Mediating structures are a prerequisite to democracy. They preserve the liberty of citizens to act on public matters apart from government. They permit their members representation and participation in the sociopolitical arrangements of the neighbourhood, community, nation, or state.”

Oliver goes on to say this: “If owners don’t know what boards are talking about or why, if they don’t understand who does what and why, how can they possibly participate? Boards are key agencies in society, bringing democracy to the highest level of every organisation. It is their job to define and demand organisational success and standards of ethics, the law and prudence on our behalf. This is true board leadership and we need it more than ever.”

On a deeper, personal level, I’m convinced that if boards set a better example for governing then there is hope for democracy worldwide. That’s my mission. My theory is that getting the message to governing boards has the potential to create an accelerated learning track in the United States to better governance and improved democratic process.

Boards empower the owners to govern without actually needing everyone to sit at the board table. To do the job right, Boards need the right tools. Policy Governance can boost organizational success and the quality and level of board decisions. Policy Governance will not be the right choice for every board, but it should be a choice.

Policy Governance (PG) is a registered trademark of Dr. John Carver to preserve the integrity of the governance system, not for financial gain. Policy Governance is free to anyone.