Adding Widgets, Blurring Accountability

How does a board ensure achievement of a particular goal that’s not part of the Ends statement? Disregarding the question of whether it should do so at all, Heather Schmidt Albinger, in “Policy Governance: A New Look,” (Cooperative Grocer #126, September/October 2006) suggests we add the extra tool of strategic initiatives, whilst admitting that doing so blurs the clear line of accountability separating board and management. The implication is that in just this one small area it doesn’t matter. Unfortunately this clear line just happens to be model-critical to effective use of Policy Governance.

The problem with strategic initiatives as described by Albinger is not just that they undercut the accountability of the general manager in respect of the results contained within the initiative itself; more seriously, as an example of board-sanctified prior allocation of resources to a particular result, they let the general manager off the hook for the achievement of the totality of organizational performance. Accountability is not the same as the fulfillment of fiduciary duty, but it is a necessary component of it—absent clear accountability, a board has already failed in its obligations.

I would suggest that this board dig deeper. The proposed outcome of the initiative, workforce diversity, could be identified as an End in itself, in which case its place in policy is clear. Alternatively, the desired performance could be obtained by finding justification to describe its absence as an unacceptable condition in executive limitations. But given the provenance of the idea as a suggested means to the Ends of community diversity and belonging, the board should also consider simply excluding it from board action altogether as an unnecessary interference with the general manager’s specific responsibilities, and to focus instead on holding the general manager accountable for achieving those established Ends.

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