Minimum Viable Governance - An Introduction to BoardPro's 3 x 5 Playbook
BoardPro was founded in 2015 with a mission to make governance easier and more efficient for everyone, especially small businesses and non-profits. That’s why we developed software that helps boards set agendas, create board packs, keep minutes, record votes and more.
Along the way, our customers began asking us questions beyond the use of our technology. Many of them were in the $2 million to $25 million revenue range and early in their governance journey. They wanted more guidance about what a board’s responsibilities are, and to whom, how a board works between stakeholders and managers, and most importantly, how to run board meetings in a way that leads to the ideal future for owners.
In classic startup fashion, we began testing the waters with content, pushing out relevant material to see if the need was real and, more importantly, if it was something we were capable of helping with. We surprised ourselves by writing a CEO report template that still ranks as number 1 on Google today. Encouraged, we talked to our experts and created a simple graphical model of the core components of governance - something we call ‘minimum viable governance’. We started running webinars on those components, and we got a signal back that what we were doing was valuable! Attendees started asking us to write a book and governance consultants began asking if they could use our model.
One such customer was Jordan Williams, one of the founders of the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union, a cause-driven entrepreneur who knows the difference good governance can make to an organisation. The union has an operating budget of a few million dollars, so it really relies on its board members to put their shoulder to the wheel on fundraising and applying their wisdom to operational improvements.
During a BoardPro webinar, a playbook slide caught Williams’s eye, and promised to deal with what he considers to be a core problem: The tyranny of the urgent over the important! A struggle that all boards face at some point is how to get to the important things like delegated authorities when the day-to-day needs and deadlines of an organisation are so pressing and there’s already a relatively small resource base.
Williams wants a suite of templates and examples so that he can get the fundamentals of governance in place quickly and easily. He’s read widely on governance but hasn’t found the simple framework and practical tools he needs until now. This article, the playbook components we’ve already released and the book to come are for Jordan and all those who come to us for support.
Why Write a Playbook?
At BoardPro, we believe that organisations can create far more impact if they spend less time on admin and operations and more time setting and sticking to strategy. We saw a gap in the market for practical, simple, step-by-step methods of achieving good governance that delivers success, and we’re compelled to fill that gap.
Governance is dynamic and difficult
The job of a board is to create the desired future for investors, owners and stakeholders. That means board members run the full gambit of responsibility and complexity.
Boards are responsible for setting and delivering on the purpose of the organisation. They do this by constantly strategizing and creating a feedback loop between management and the board to execute on strategy and maintain a healthy organisation. A subset of that responsibility is the Board’s responsibility for maintaining human dynamics, such as those between the board and shareholders, the board and management, and within the board itself.
Playbooks provide simple frameworks for doing a better job
This playbook, we hope, will also make it easier for you to get started! Our goal is to provide an overarching mental model to help you visualise the job. This will be especially helpful for chairs, on whom much of the responsibility falls.
A simple framework should also help governance leaders order their thinking and set priorities. And if you’re a new board, this should help you cover your bases.
BoardPro’s main customers: SMBs and NFPs
Our main customers are small-and-medium enterprises and not-for-profit organisations – the companies that don’t have all the legacy frameworks set up like bigger companies do. While many of our customers are experienced professionals in their own fields, many are also early in their governance maturity journey.
Of course, there are plenty of organisations that provide excellent governance training, but we understand that it’s tough for early stage organisations to invest in training for all of their board members.
Who is this playbook for?
While our bread and butter is SMBs and NFPs, we welcome any board member and those who serve boards to deliver a professional result for their organisation to take a gander at what we’ve come up with.
The 3X5 Playbook is designed for an organisation with a functioning management team and a governance org of greater than $1 million in revenue. That said, this can be cut down and right sized for smaller companies like startups or early stage NFPs lead by a single executive with a small support office.
The 3X5 Playbook explained
The Playbook will give you a step-by-step for understanding governance in its simplest format, which is essentially understanding that the board is part of a three-way relationship. Here’s how that works:
- The owners of a company appoint a board to represent their interests and create their desired future.
- The board recruits a management team to outwork that purpose.
- Management becomes accountable to the board and the board to the owners and stakeholders.
Getting to the desired outcome is sometimes less simple, so we’ve broken it down into 3 components and 5 processes that you should follow to achieve board success!
The 3 Parts of the Playbook
The first part of the Playbook maps out the 5 main processes a board must run to fulfil its responsibilities (more on that in a moment). The second part goes into the inputs needed from management on those 5 main processes, which the board will use to produce tangible outputs.
By the way, “inputs” are data that management provides to the board to allow it to run its processes. “Outputs” are artefacts the board creates through its processes that serve to communicate and record the way it works. This helps guide management to do its job, protects the board if it gets sued or fined and builds an institutional memory which helps to guide future decisions.
The third part brings home the point that governance is a workflow made up of multiple jobs to be done.
The 5 Processes
The heart of the Playbook is the 5 core processes needed to run a successful board:
- The board’s first job is to ascertain the future its owners and stakeholders want it to create for them.
- Then it partners with management to determine a strategy to create that future.
- Alongside that, the board sets policies to give management both direction and the right mindset for building that future.
- The board runs a regular cycle of meetings to maintain progress towards the desired future and…
- …to exercise oversight of management and safeguard the organisation itself.
See practical guidance and templates on the primary processes here:
- 8 Steps to a Beautiful Operating Plan
- Understand the power and importance of the
- How to Develop Robust Board meeting Cycles
- How to Develop your Annual Board Work Plan
- Why you Need an Annual Work Plan
How to use the 3X5 Governance Playbook?
First thing’s first. Review the Playbook and compare it to your board’s existing processes. If you’re noticing any gaps, incorporate new jobs into the plan for the year.
Then, make sure you get management and the board aligned around a common understanding of your governance workflow.
Keep an eye out for these helpful tools over the next few months:
- Our next articles that dive into the 5 core inputs and outputs
- Chair and CEO checklists that will help you stay on track while using the Playbook.
Finally, allocate responsibility for developing governance capability as required, and of course, consider external coaching and advice as required.