Guide to Policy Governance

Policy governance is a conceptual model of boardsmanship that provides a framework for strategic leadership by the Board of Trustees at Jackson College. The model enables the board to free itself from unnecessary, time-consuming details and to focus on the major purpose of governance, creating and sustaining a vision of what the organization contributes to the community. The Jackson College board is primarily concerned with the ENDs of the organization (what good is produced for what people) and delegate the MEANs (programs services, and operations) used to achieve the ENDs to the president. The Jackson College board governs on behalf of an identifiable ownership and are externally and future-oriented.

In fulfilling its role, the board essentially performs three jobs. They link with the communities that own the institution, they make policy and they assure institutional performance through the president’s performance.

The model is based on 10 principles of trusteeship:

  1. The board exists to represent the ownership of the institution. The first job responsibility of the board is to define and connect with the ownership;
  2. The board has authority only as a whole; individual trustees have no individual power to govern the institution or direct the president or staff;
  3. The board’s decisions and directions are expressed as policy, which is the expression of the values and perspectives of the board. The second job responsibility for the board is to make policy;
  4. In making policy, the board starts with large policy statements and systematically narrows their policy statements a step at a time, until they are comfortable with any reasonable interpretation the president may make;
  5. The board proactively defines and delegates authority to the president for the MEANs of the organization, rather than reacting to and ratifying administration’s proposals. They are not involved in managing operations, staff or facilities;
  6. A pivotal duty of governance is to determine the ENDs (the desired results) of the organization. ENDs define what good is produced for which people, at what cost. The ENDs policies are based on external needs and should be linked to strategic planning;
  7. The board addresses the MEANs used by the president to achieve the ENDs by defining as policy the boundaries beyond which the president must not go. The definitions comprise the Executive Limitations policies;
  8. The board is responsible for designing its own job responsibilities and standards for board practice defined in the Governance Process policies;
  9. The board defines relationships with administration that are empowering, responsible and clear. The relationships are stated in Board-CEO Relationship policies; and
  10. Institutional performance is monitored rigorously against policy criteria. The third job responsibility of the board is to assure executive and institutional performance through monitoring progress toward ENDs and adherence to limitations.

Policy Categories

Board that use the policy governance approach set policy in the following four areas:

  1. END: The board’s most important job is to devise the mission and mission-related statements that clearly state what the desired results, the ENDs, of the organization’s action are to be. What needs are to be met, for whom, and at what cost? How will the world be different as a result of the organization’s actions? What are the expected outcomes of the institution’s programs for those it serves?
  2. Executive Limitations: While the board prescribes the ENDs for the institution, it only sets limits on the MEANs with which the president operates. These limits are principles of prudence and ethics that form a boundary of presidential practices, activities, circumstances and methods.
  3. Board-CEO Relationship: In addition to setting a vision and defining what constitutes inappropriate presidential practices, the board must set policies about how it related to the president. In essence, the CEO is the board’s sole employee and the link between the board and staff. Board-CEO Relationship policies define the CEO’s role, delegation and accountability.
  4. Governance Process: The board sets policies for its own workings, its responsibilities (noted above), its structure, how meetings will be conducted and standards for the board. The policies reinforce the board’s responsibilities to provide vision and governing leadership.