Is your Policy being Implemented?

Is your policy being implemented?

You are a member of a Board of Directors (BOD) of a Non-Profit organization. Over time, you participated in the development and voting process to put new Board policies in place. Some of those policies probably cover important areas of risk management.  How aware are you of what happens next, after the policy is approved?

I have two questions for you to consider:

  1. Are you sure your BOD policy is being implemented?
  2. How do you know if your policy is being implemented or not, and to what degree?

In a period in my career when I was a CEO of a Non-Profit health and social service organization, I had an exceptional BOD who understood policy governance. They also invested in continuing to learn through the years at the request of government funding staff as more and more of the government grants and related responsibility were coming to our organization. We had more and more to be accountable for.

One day, tragedy struck. A woman in one of our houses set the house on fire when she smoked in bed. She died in the fire.   I rushed to the scene to be converged upon by the media, as well as emergency personnel. Staff who were on site, some of whom had responded also as part of our emergency procedures, knew that I was the spokesperson and so waited until I could be interviewed. I was asked a number of questions about our policies including about safety, emergency response, and even how tenants were chosen and supervised. I was able to answer these questions successfully.

Our BOD had clear policies in place to cover everything that they were accountable for. As the senior staff person, I had clarity about what the BOD conferred to me for implementing its policies, and about my reporting responsibilities to them to keep them apprised of their policies being implemented into our operational procedures and operations. The media and then the public, albeit upset by the tragedy, acknowledged that the BOD had everything in place that should be in place. The experience, though tragic, was handled well by staff who understood what was supposed to happen in the event of an emergency and acted in accordance with those policies.

You do not want to be in the position of discovering, through some kind of tragedy or incident, that your policies were not implemented. As a BOD member, if an investigation took place, you could not divert responsibility to staff for the situation. You cannot defend yourself by saying ‘but we have a policy that was created to prevent this!’ The BOD is accountable to the public for the performance of the organization. The public places trust in the BOD for good governance of its Non-Profit organization.

Policy Implementation: A Simple Process

A good policy governance model helps a BOD with its publicly entrusted responsibility in such a way that it can be properly accountable for the performance of the organization. Policy governance is about a lot more than creating the policy and ‘having it on the books’. It includes:

  1. People involved in implementing the policy sign off on having read it, and having easy access to the policy and any notes of interpretation by the BOD.
  2. You have provided clarity about the BOD-Staff relationship that includes about policy implementation.
  3. You have a reporting mechanism between the BOD and Staff that provides sufficient information to the BOD that policies are being implemented and if not, why not.


Policy governance is not about micro-management. It is about putting mechanisms in place that assures the BOD that policies are being implemented, The degree to which the BOD devolves authority to the staff for implementation varies from BOD to BOD, and also varies in different aspects of operations. For example, there is generally more intrusion into how finances are managed than there is to how public relations are managed.

Going back to those original questions:

  1. Are you sure your BOD policy is being implemented?
  2. How do you know if your policy is being implemented or not, and to what degree?

One of the ways you can support your BOD in answering positively to these questions is by ensuring your policy governance model includes the 3 phases we’ve shared with you here. You might consider sharing this article with your fellow BOD members and having a conversation about policy implementation at your next BOD meeting.

Birgitt Williams
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Birgitt Williams is an international management and organizational solutions consultant, author, meeting facilitator, teacher, keynote speaker and executive coach. Her business focus is to create inspiring work environments that are highly effective in achieving their purpose and fulfilling their vision.

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