One of the erroneous governance assumptions that I described in the radio interview I did for the Michigan Business Network a few days ago is the notion that board standing committees are an invitation for transportation board members to dabble in executive and administrative matters – what is popularly known as “micro-management.” You’ll recall from a couple of my recent posts at this blog that an erroneous assumption about an aspect of the public transportation governing business earns the designation “Insidious Foe” when two things are true. First, the assumption is dangerous. Taking it seriously and acting on it is very likely to damage the board-CEO working relationship. Now, this is no small price to pay for taking bad advice, since there’s universal agreement that your long-term success as a public transportation CEO depends, more than any other factor, on building and keeping healthy your partnership with the board. Second, the dangerous erroneous assumption is insidious because, at least at first blush, it appears to be plausible and reasonable. It doesn’t help that such risky erroneous assumptions are often endorsed and even recommended by the self-proclaimed experts I think of as “Wrong-Headed Gurus.” You are well-advised, my CEO colleague, to take the classic Latin motto to heart: “Caveat Emptor” (consumer beware).
Actually, I’ve learned in my quarter-century in the public and nonprofit governing business that board committees can, indeed, invite micro-management – but only when they are poorly designed. The classic example is what are known as “silo” committees that correspond to administrative or operational – rather than governing – functions, such as bus operations, commuter rail, para-transit services, equipment maintenance, a particular capital project, personnel, finance, and the like. These silo committees do, indeed, invite board members to get involved in non-governing detail and to become classic micro-managers.
By contrast, public transportation board committees that are aligned with the broad streams of governing decisions and judgments that make up the true governing work of all boards – for example, strategic and operational planning, performance monitoring, and external/stakeholder relations – are very effective bulwarks against micromanagement. They are truly the anti-silo committees since each of these broad governing streams cuts across all of your transportation authority’s operations. The purview of your board’s strategic and operational planning committee is all of your authority’s planning, and the purview of your performance monitoring committee is all of your authority’s activities – financial and operational – that should be measured and assessed.
In light of their broad purviews, these anti-silo committees keep your board’s attention at a high level, above the swamp of nitty-gritty details where meddling micromanagers prowl. And they also keep board members busy doing the highly demanding work of making high-impact governing decisions and judgments, leaving no time to dabble in executive and administrative matters. Never forget that board members who are occupied doing serious, high-level governing work will tend to be the kind of satisfied owners who make for reliable partners.
Bottom line: Steer well clear of this extremely dangerous Insidious Foe!