I delivered a board governance workshop this past weekend, and as per usual when I came to the module on policy development, I sensed fear in the eyes of the participating board members. What is it about policy development that sends people into a tailspin?
As part of the easing-in process for this workshop module on policy development, I ask the board to come up with a list of reasons on why it is a good idea to have policies. The group is always able to identify a solid list of reasons why associations should have written policies:
- Promotes consistency in organization’s actions
- Directs future activities of the board and staff
- Ensure that actions tie back to the organizational mission
- Allows the board to delegate authority while maintaining control
- Provides proper guidelines for decision-making while reducing the opportunity for bias
- Clarifies the boards’ governing style
- Efficiency – reduces repeat conversations
- Outlines clear expectations
- Proactive rather than reactive
Inevitably though, despite the many pros to policies as noted above, this is an area with which many organizations struggle. Why is that?
For starters, policy development can seem like a daunting process. But it doesn’t have to be. There are many great tools out there to help organizations with getting a start on a policy manual. Need to develop a travel policy? There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Pick one of the many existing sample travel policies available online, and make it your own. Get your staff, committee members and those board members most in the know in any one particular area involved in the process. As a board, identify the highest priority policies – this will vary from organization to organization, although as a rule policies around financial management, board governance and programs tend to be most critical.
Take care not to confuse procedure with policy: a policy is a pre-determined course of action, whereas the procedure documents how the policy will be carried out. As part of the policy development process, identify the process for policy approval and incorporate a regular review of policy (a policy on policy-making, if you will). Policies can be amended at the board level, unlike bylaw changes which require membership approval, so don’t get bogged down in trying to develop the perfect policy that will stand the test of time – no policy is set in stone, and policies can be changed to adapt to changing business environments.
Beginning the process of policy development will force your board to operate at a governance level – where your board members’ time and focus is best served.
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