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AspenLeaf What is Coherent Governance®?
Coherent Governance® is The Aspen Group International's own governance design. It is influenced heavily by John Carver's work, but we believe it is the most comprehensive and practical governance model available for public and not-for-profit boards, the primary audience for which it was created.

During decades of work with boards of all types, we came to realize that in order to serve the real needs of public boards especially, they should rely on a governance model that addresses the full breadth of issues and concerns they have at the operational level of their organizations. And we concluded that the more "user-friendly" a model can be, the more likely it is to be implemented effectively--and sustained over time. The language of Coherent Governance policies is clear, unambiguous, never leaving the board challenged to say: “What this language is trying to say is …”

The Coherent Governance board establishes governing policies and rigorously monitors organizational performance for compliance with its Operational Expectations policies and reasonable progress toward the achievement of its Results policies. Unlike traditional boards, Coherent Governance boards effectively govern very complex organizations with a policy manual that includes not more than 35 to 40 policies--total.

The Coherent Governance model is built around four different but interrelated types of policies, each serving a very distinct purpose:

RESULTS: Results policies describe the outcomes the organization is expected to achieve for the specific clients or customers it serves. The Results policies are the performance targets for the CEO and the organization, and form the basis for judging the success of both.

OPERATIONAL EXPECTATIONS: The board wants to remove itself from preoccupation with the day-to-day operation of the organization. But yet, it has concerns about those operational matters that it must express in order to represent and serve the interests of the “owners” of the organization on whose behalf the board does its work—the citizens, in the case of public boards.

OE policies allow the board either to direct that certain conditions exist or actions occur, or to prohibit those conditions and actions that it would find unacceptable. Each OE policy has two components: one stated positively ("do this"); the other negatively ("don't do this"). The result is clear direction from the board to the CEO.

The CEO is encumbered to comply with– to operate the organization within-- the board's stated values about operational conditions and actions. But after having observed and complied with those policy values, the CEO is free to make other decisions without seeking the board's approval. And for the board, these policies allow the board to control operational decision-making without the confusing ritual of approving CEO recommendations that undermines clear accountability. In fact, Coherent Governance promises to eliminate forever any disclarity about who is responsible for what.

BOARD/CEO RELATIONS: BCR policies define the degree of authority conveyed by the board to the CEO, and also outline the process for how the CEO will be evaluated. Essentially, the CEO's performance and the organization's performance are identical: if the organization succeeds in operating according to the board's stated values, and if it produces the outcomes for clients specified by the board in policy, the CEO has succeeded, and is evaluated accordingly. No more off-the-cuff, generic, dishonoring evaluations.

GOVERNANCE CULTURE: The board has a culture. In traditional governing environments, we aren't quite sure what caused it to be what it is. In Coherent Governance, the board deliberately and carefully crafts a set of policies that, in sum, establishes a culture for good governance. Separate policies will establish standards for how the board performs its work, including policies defining the board's purpose, its job description, its self-defined norms for executing its work, and its own discipline and accountability.



If one believes that there is any relationship whatsoever between what happens in the boardroom and what happens at the operational level of the organizations for which the board is responsible, no board can afford to do its job in any manner other than excellent. For a poorly performing board to expect the organization to perform any better is fantasy. Boards are obligated to perform at the highest level--and then demand similar performance from the organizations they govern.

  1. Role confusion between board and CEO will be eliminated forever.
  2. The board will add value to the organization it governs by focusing on the Results that are to be achieved and maintaining direct interface with stakeholders.
  3. The CEO and staff will be free to do their jobs without the board's approving, reviewing, or redoing day-to-day decisions.
  4. The board's bulky, unwieldy policy manual--which almost always is focused more on staff operations than governance concerns--will be supplanted for board use by very clear, dynamic and inclusive governing policies.

Our experienced consultation and training offers all the practical and theoretical tools a board should need to effectively implement Coherent Governance. However, implementation attempts can fail. In the final analysis, it is your board that is responsible for its own behavior and commitment, and no third party consultant can compensate for some of the reasons for failure.

We have seen these contributors to implementation failure:
  • Lack of board commitment;
  • Impatience with the challenge to do different work well;
  • CEOs' inability or refusal to assume the required authority and accountability;
  • Dwelling on the model itself, rather than using it as a governing tool;
  • Allowing members with a different agenda to sidetrack the board.
Doing anything new and different requires commitment, patience and willingness to give up old habits and customs in favor of the promise of better, more fulfilling work. The result is worth the cost.

The Aspen Group International, LLC.
A Leadership Development Company

P.O. Box 3788 | Gulf Shores, AL 36547
303-250-9000 or 303.478.0125 Fax: 208.247.6084
email: aspen@aspengroup.org

Linda J. Dawson, Senior Partner | Dr. Randy Quinn, Senior Partner
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Aspen Group Intl, LLC.
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