Carver and the Relationship Model

The Relationship Model
Policy Governance Model (PGM)/Relationship Model (RM) by Les Stahlke

Here are some comparisons between John Carver’s work and mine. First, let me say that I cut my eye teeth on the “Carver Model” in 1989 when he wrote his first book and I was transitioning out of leadership of a mission which I led in founding. I wanted to prepare the board I worked for to take the load of governance after acting as a cheerleader while I was there. We chose the Policy Governance Model and hired a consultant trained in that form of governance. I am very familiar with the PGM.

Carver is the grandfather of not-for-profit governance. His work has benefited thousands of churches and charities. It is still by far the most widely known and used governance model by a very wide margin. It is essentially a good approach. It should work for any church or charity. Here are some comparisons.

1. “All cars have four wheels.” the PGM and the RM both have policies as the basis of the model. Governance by definition requires policies because “Governance is the control and direction of an organization through policy, instead of through direct management.” Because Carver was first in any practical sense, he had the liberty of naming his model the Policy Governance Model. In reality all true governance models are policy governance models.

The Relationship ModelTM is named for the basic building block of relationships. Naturally, it is also a policy governance model, but the focus is not on policy but on the structure and process of relationships.

The PGM also discusses relationships but in a secondary manner. There is a lot of attention given to the Board/CEO relationship, a very important relationship and probably the most important. It occupies two sections of his four-section policy template.

It is not the only relationship that deserves attention. The RM also focuses on the relationship between the Board Chair and Board, the individual Board member and the Board, each committee and the Board, as well as relationships with strategic partners and beneficiaries.

2.Both models eliminate the Executive Committee. Governance does not require a committee to have the power of the Board 99% of the time in order to manage between board meetings. Policies govern the leadership of the CEO between Board meetings. This is true for both models.

3. The primary difference between the two is that Carver assumes that boards are essentially groups of healthy people whose relationships are healthy. The PGM therefore doesn’t have an “operating system” underlying the “application of governance.” It is a combination of an operating system and the governance application.

The operating system (like WindowsTM) of the RM is the design of healthy working relationships. I have analyzed hundreds of relationships in not-for-profit organizations and churches to find the elements that are common in all working relationships.

What I found is this in a nutshell: healthy relationships are made up of values (the way we use power) structure and process. This design is universal and is valid in all cultures and compatible with all religious beliefs.

Every one uses power in relationships. How it is used is the single most important part of healthy relationships. Power can be described on a continuum from laissez-faire to authoritarian, with dynamic collaboration in the middle.

Everyone has some authority (power) but it is always limited. Carver calls this Executive Limitations, but in fact every person, every committee, even the board have limitations, not just the CEO.

Everyone has some responsibility but it always comes with expectations (standards, goals, and tasks). Carver speaks of goals specifically, but usually describes expectations with a double negative of limitations. “The CEO may not fail to treat staff…” is one example of many uses of this form. It is more difficult to distinguish between limitations and expectations without a clear conceptual framework.

Everyone is accountable. Accountability is important in the PGM in terms of measuring Ends, but it is a very informal concept where the CEO is expected to measure benefits in any reasonable manner. In the PGM the Board does not need to negotiate specific strategic goals (outcomes). The RM negotiates S.M.A.R.T. goals between the Board and the CEO.

The six core processes in the RM are communication, conflict resolution, decision- making, planning, delegating, and monitoring/measuring (accountability). The PGM uses all of these too, but without a framework to show how they relate to the use of power and the structure of relationships.

In other words, the PGM makes assumptions about the underlying operating system for board governance, making it more difficult to use in organizations. I think that’s the reason why people adapt it in so many ways and in many cases abandon the PGM as not working for them. It’s not really a failure of the PGM as much as a results of not having a healthy operating system on which to run the application.

By allowing an unlicensed application of the PGM without an operating system, Carver has encouraged a very wide variation in experience. This is why the PGM has morphed in many hybrids, most of which miss things that Carver has designed into his model but doesn’t require organizations to use. The hybrids often fail and Carver is unfairly blamed.

4. Because the RM begins with the operating system of the universal design of relationships, there are many applications. While the PGM is strictly a governance and leadership model, the RM can be applied to governance, leadership, management, parenting, marriage, teaching, business and everything else that happens in relationships, which is almost everything in life. Board members continually tell me that they use the RM in raising their children and in running their business, etc. They are simply applying the same operating system to other relationship applications. Christians find the RM helps make sense of their own understanding of relationships in all of life.

5. Ends and Strategic Plans

Both models focus on strategic outcomes (governance) rather than tactical outputs (management). The PGM is very strong on this and so is the RM. The difference is that the PGM does it with Ends, which makes good sense, but often ends up being a very general section in the Policy Manual. There is not enough definition. The RM has a ten-element Strategic Plan that includes all of the Ends material but results in a specific plan that the CEO can use as a map to develop the programs that deliver the services.

The PGM speaks of what services and what cost, which is the heart of strategic planning. The RM asks, “What services shall we deliver for which people, in which places, and in what order of priority?” and “What outcomes do we wish to see in the lives of our beneficiaries?”

In summary, the PGM and RM have a lot in common because they are both true governance models based on policies. Most other books on governance do not make the clear distinction between governance and management that both the PGM and RM make. Thus, most governance is really just shadow management.

Both models are flexible to fit a wide variety of churches and organizations. The PGM is unlicensed and very flexible. It lacks precision because of the assumptions it makes about healthy relationships, strategic goals and accountability. The RM is precise, but not rigid. It is flexible, but not vague. The Relationship ModelTM is certified by Inc. to assure quality in the development of governance and ongoing support to sustain that quality.

Les Stahlke, President/CEO Inc.

©2000 Inc.

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