Behind the governance ‘dashboard’

The ‘dashboard‘ metaphor is often used to discuss the role of a board in monitoring key metrics in the performance and conformance of both corporate and not-for-profit organisations.

However, this metaphor is only one part of a larger ‘vehicle‘ metaphor, which sees the board ‘steering‘ the organisation towards a destination set via its core purpose and its current strategy.  The strategy is sometimes described using a ‘roadmap‘ metaphor, albeit with occasional recognition that “the map is not the territory”, and that things can happen on the ‘journey‘ which require the board to ‘apply the brakes‘ or a ‘burst of speed‘.

What kind of vehicle the board is driving, and how well equipped they are to control it, are worth considering as we seek to enhance their effectiveness and efficiency.

Governance can be described as a ‘system of controls’, as it addresses both goal setting and the ways goals are achieved.  In that sense it is a meta-system, or oversight mechanism for the various sub-systems we use to achieve our purposes. 

The following hypothetical systems chart describes one way of seeing directors’ responsibility for setting strategic directions, allocating resources, managing risks, and monitoring conformance with external and internal compliance obligations using policy, procedures and reporting arrangements (the lines connecting the boxes) to optimise outcomes in ways that are both legal and ethical.

Boards that fail to set directions, allocate resources appropriately, identify and manage risks of action and inaction, and fail to monitor their environment and performance, are really not doing their job. Their vehicle is effectively ‘stalled‘.

Does your governance need a ‘tune up’?

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