I was working with a client recently and the idea of board oversight versus supervision was creating some misunderstanding. There are simplistic distinctions. The following benchmarks can help a board understand the differences.
If we are focused on the outcomes to be achieved and whether they are achieved, and causing a change to occur if we are unsatisfied with progress, we are involved in oversight.
If we are focused on what’s being done and how it is being done, then we are involved in supervision.
If we are focused on what is being done, how it’s being done, who is doing it, and substituting our judgment for the judgment of the individual or group being held accountable, that is supervision.
If board agendas and dashboards focus on strategy, policy, and resource allocation it supports oversight.
If board agendas and dashboards are filled with the details of program and operations it invites supervision.
Board agendas and the companion background materials are the primary tools for helping boards to focus on oversight instead of supervision. When boards experience a simulation of meetings constructed in the right way, behavior can change. We find no amount of reading or discussion will enable a behavior change if folks don’t know what effective behavior looks like.
For more information about board agendas, view Leigh’s video on strategic board agendas.