“Does your board have a detailed governing mission?” My question was greeted by some quizzical looks in a recent “board-savvy CEO” workshop I was conducting for chief executives and CEO-aspirants. One participant pointed out that her transportation authority regularly updated its mission – with active board involvement – and asked if that was what I was talking about. My response: “No, I mean your board’s unique governing mission, not your authority’s overall mission.” I went on to explain that the board, like every other major organizational unit in your authority, needs its own mission describing what it’s responsible for.
I used as a real-life example the Board of Directors of the Port Authority of Allegheny County in Pittsburgh, PA, which a few years ago adopted a detailed governing mission. It had been brainstormed in a daylong retreat and refined by a Board task force that had been created to follow-through on the retreat. The PAAC Governing Mission says, for example, that the board, as PAAC’s governing body: “plays a leading, proactive role in PAAC’s strategic decision making, and in setting strong, clear strategic directions and priorities for all of PAAC’s operating units and programs;” that it “monitors PAAC performance (both operational and financial) against clearly defined performance targets;” that it “takes accountability for its own performance as a governing body by setting clear, detailed Board governing performance targets, and by regularly monitoring and assessing Board performance;” among several other points that filled a page.
The PAAC Board is just one of a growing number of public transportation boards that have adopted formal governing missions in recent years. Really board-savvy CEOs have made sure their boards have their own mission statements for three very compelling reasons:
- Board members who have a firm grasp of their governing responsibilities tend to make up more cohesive and effective “Strategic Governing Teams” and to be more reliable partners for the CEO. By the way, interviewing hundreds of board members over the years, I’ve been amazed at the number of new board members who’ve told me how frustrating their governing experience has been thus far because they’re not sure what they’re supposed to be doing. Needless to say, frustrated board members don’t make for reliable partners for the CEO. By contrast, boards that have a formal governing mission that is used to orient incoming board members have a real leg-up in the governing business since new members hit the ground running, rather than slowly and painfully learning the ropes.
- Transportation authorities can use their board governing mission to educate local elected officials, other stakeholders, and the community-at-large on a critical facet of the authority’s operations: governance. In my experience, demonstrating that your board has a firm grasp of its responsibilities is an important way to strengthen your authority’s image as a well-managed organization and to widen community respect and support – obviously critical objectives in a world filled with skeptical, tax-averse citizens.
- And you and your board members can use the board’s governing mission as a guide in mapping out the processes for board engagement in the areas covered in the mission statement, such as setting clear strategic directions and operating targets, and as a practical yardstick for the board to use in assessing its own governing performance.