The NMC Policy Governance Model: A Summary

Board leadership requires, above all, that the board provide a vision for the college. To do so, the board must first have an appropriate vision and understanding of its own responsibilities. The NMC policy governance model provides a powerful framework for structuring this task. Following this model, the board can free itself of unnecessary, time-consuming involvements and focus on the real business of governance: creating, sustaining and fulfilling a vision.

The NMC policy governance model is modeled after and explained fully in John Carver's documentary Boards that Make a Difference (Jossey-Bass, 1990). In brief, it reduces or eliminates meaningless board and committee work, trivia, board involvement in administrative and staff matters, unclear evaluation criteria, and role confusion.

Policy governance emphasizes vision, mission, and values; the empowerment of both board and staff; and the strategic ability to lead. Because policies permeate and dominate all organizational life, they present the most powerful tool for exercising boarding leadership and responsibility. Designed as a total system to encompass all expressions of board wisdom and guidance, the policy categories include: board process, board-president relation, ends and parameters.

Board Process

The board must set policies for its own internal workings:

  • how meetings will be conducted
  • what topics will be addressed
  • the role of officers and committees and
  • how the board will discipline itself

An effective design of board process ensures that the board fulfills its three primary responsibilities:

  • maintaining links to the ownership (the citizens of the service area)
  • establishing the four categories of written policies as included in this framework
  • assuring presidential performance

These are areas in which the board, and only the board, must assume full responsibility. By setting clear board process policies, the board develops a plan for how it will operate - compelling it to remain focused on the critical challenges of providing vision and leadership.

Board-President Relationship
The board must set policies about how it relates to staff - the board's approach to the delegation of power, its view of the chief executive (president)'s role and how it will assess staff performance. The NMC policy governance model envisions the president as the link between the board and the faculty and staff. In essence, the president is the board's sole employee. The only specified duty of the president is to be accountable to the entire board for the performance of the organization - on how well the board's ends are being met and the parameters not violated. This maintains accountability while allowing the president optimal latitude to act and to empower others in the organization to act.

The board's most important job is to devise a vision, mission and mission-related statements which clearly establish the desired results - the ends - of the college. The ends statements should address what human needs are to be met, for whom, at what cost, and how the world will be different as a result of the college's actions. The board leaves it up to the staff to decide the parameters by which to achieve these ends, and evaluates staff performance based on how well the results of the organization's actions match the desired ends.

While the board prescribes the ends it wants to achieve, it only sets limits on the parameters within which the staff operates. These limits are principles of prudence and ethics that form a boundary on staff practices, methods and procedures. In parameters policies, the board states clearly what the board will not allow, but it is otherwise silent regarding staff actions. This empowers staff members to use their full creative powers while at the same time safeguarding against potential abuses, enabling the board to concentrate its energies on ends issues.