Principals need to hear the voice of God

21st March 2003 at 00:00
GOVERNORS need to take charge of their principals and show them who is boss according to American management guru John Carver.

In London for a conference on governance staged by the Association of Colleges on Thursday, Mr Carver promoted his own blueprint for effective boards.

The document, the Policy Governance Model, contains what he regards as universal truths about the way college boards should function, which he says can be applied in most countries.

Underlying his approach is a working assumption that governing bodies, despite being vital to colleges' performance since incorporation in 1993, have the least well-defined role in the overall organisation.

Even the most talented individuals can act incompetently as a group when they fail to understand their role and accept collective responsibility for decisions, says Mr Carver, who runs a consultancy specialising in college governance, based in Atlanta, USA.

He told FE Focus: "Sometimes, it is true, there are people who are not competent at the job. But the problem generally is not individual competence, it is turning that into group competence. A group of competent people does not necessarily make a competent board.

"Colleges do not need boards. It is the people who own the college who need a board. I mean ownership in the moral sense, and that means the people the college is there for.

"More competition means a changing market and you have to change with it.

In recent years, FE colleges have found they have some competition for some of the money. You have to constantly argue how you can do things better, how you can do them more effectively and you have to ask at what cost are you going to be doing it."

The point, he says, is governors need the self-confidence to assert their authority over the principal and remember their job is not, automatically, to approve initiatives driven by management.

He said: "Governors must stop approving things and get in front of the parade. They must set out the criteria and hand the criteria to the chief executive officer - the principal.

"They must make it clear to the CEO that, if you want to keep your job, then meeting these criteria is how you do it. But the boards should also say how you do it is up to you.

"When board members speak as individuals, no one needs to listen. But, when they speak as a group, then God is speaking.

"When you talk to governors about their agenda, and you ask where they got that agenda from, too often they say they got it from management. That's because they don't know what their job is.

"In too many cases, we have management managing the governors. Instead, governors should be governing the management," said Mr Carver.

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