Board/Staff Relations

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In this section:

Board/Staff Partnership
Personnel Policy

Board members and staff must strive to become a partnership team focused on providing the best possible service with the available resources. To accomplish this objective, mutual respect and cooperation must exist between the board unit and the staff unit.

A useful starting point is to consider some of the major differences between board and staff members.

  • Board members are volunteers. Staff members are usually paid
  • Board members are elected. Staff members are hired
  • Board members are usually involved on a part-time basis. Staff members usually work full-time
  • Board members set policy. Staff members operate within policy
  • Board members assign authority. Staff members receive authority
  • Board members are oriented toward the future and are usually not involved in the day to day work. Staff members focus on the daily administration of the agency.

In spite of these differences, board and staff members share a common purpose which is the achievement of the agency’s mission. In fact, a successful board perceives its work and the work of the executive director and other staff (paid or unpaid) as a partnership between three distinct entities, and three levels of authority.

  • The board, as well as its committees, governs the agency, and is ultimately responsible for the entire agency
  • The senior staff who manage the agency are responsible for day-to-day operations and report to the board
  • The staff, paid or unpaid, who administer the implementation of programs and services, are responsible for their performance and report to senior staff

The Board/Staff Partnership

The board’s primary role is to prepare for the future through sound planning and policy making in its governance functions. The staff’s role focuses on the "now," the daily implementation of policies and programs.

The executive director acts as the channel between the two ends interpreting policy to the staff and providing front line reports to the board on the agency’s programs and services.

To ensure these roles and responsibilities work, clear lines of authority and accountability are required. Indeed, these lines are the backbone of the agency.

The example below is from the Access Network, Board Development Learner Manual, The Alberta Educational Communication Corp. 1988, and shows the line of authority and accountability from a policy governing board.

The Board

authorizes the
Chairperson of the Board

to monitor the
Executive Director

to supervise the
who implement the policy

Implicit in this line of authority is a basic rule: a person should have only one boss. If more than one person directs the staff, confusion occurs. Varying policy interpretations and job assignments can easily place board and staff in conflict.

The president or chairperson should communicate on the board’s behalf to the executive director and the executive director should speak on behalf of the staff to the board.

For example, if a board member has a concern about a particular staff member’s work, the board should communicate that concern to the chairperson of the board. The chairperson is authorized to discuss it with the executive director, who in turn would discuss it with the staff member in question. Similarly, if a staff member has a problem with a personnel policy he or she should first take it to the executive director, not directly to the board.

Committee chairpersons and the directors or managers of particular programs or services may relate directly. However, the executive director and board chairperson should be kept aware of information being communicated.

Although on the surface this may appear a roundabout approach, it serves to preserve the lines of authority, accountability and communication. Proper levels of communication will promote good relationships. However, the board should set some processes for the circumstances of unresolved issues between these lines of communication. The mechanism for dealing with these may be through such things as an established grievance procedure.

Applying the rule that a person should have no more than one boss is somewhat more difficult for a board that has no executive director or equivalent position. In these cases a single board member (often the chairperson of the personnel committee) is assigned the responsibility of monitoring, evaluating and dealing with staff.

The board/staff relationship should be based on mutual respect of one another and a trust that each is acting responsibly on behalf of the agency. All relevant information and points of view must be shared.

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Personnel Policy

Clear job descriptions in a well-defined structure are a necessary part of successful board/staff relations. Although the board will delegate daily responsibility for personnel management to the executive director, the board must provide the executive director with clear direction about "people management" in the agency. One of the responsibilities of the board is the development of a personnel policy document.

Developing a personnel policy document offers several advantages.

  • Policies are written. This reduces the possibility of misunderstandings about terms of employment, job conditions and job performance expectations
  • Every staff member is clear about the terms and conditions of his or her employment with the agency
  • There are written references to use when dealing with employee grievances or disciplinary matters
  • Clear and open communication between board and staff is fostered

People become committed to projects, policies and goals which they have helped develop. Consult with the staff when developing the policies which will guide their work activities. The board can include staff in the process by asking them to draft portions of the personnel document and review their own job descriptions. This participation will lead to commitment.

A personnel policy document should be as comprehensive as possible so that it provides both new and long-term employees with a clear understanding of every aspect of their job. The following provides an outline of the areas that should be dealt with in a personnel policy document.

1. Organization:

  • an organization chart of the agency, including job titles, and indicating reporting lines (every employee should know where he or she fits into the organization and who his or her boss is)
  • the terms regarding each position (permanent, probationary, temporary)
  • and a job description (every employee should understand the major functions of his or her job, the areas of responsibility for that job and the performance standards for each area of responsibility)

2. Conditions of employment:

  • hours of operation
  • lunch and rest breaks
  • terms regarding outside work
  • bonding
  • no-smoking policy
  • any other condition which may be legal and applicable to work with the agency

3. Staffing policy:

  • recruiting and hiring (professional and support staff)
  • recruitment policy (internal and external)
  • criminal record checks or other checks (ie. sexual abuse registry) as appropriate
  • probation
  • retirement
  • resignation
  • separation
  • letters of reference

4. Performance reviews:

  • appraisal system

5. Professional development policy

6. Confidentiality policy

7. Conflict of interest policy

8. Reporting protocols and incident reporting, including abuse and sexual harassment

9. Grievance procedure

10. Disciplinary procedures, including the actions which will result in disciplinary action

11. Termination procedures

12. Terms regarding absence from work, specifying those with and without remuneration:

  • statutory and other holidays
  • vacation
  • sick leave
  • maternity/paternity leave
  • study leave/absences
  • compassionate leave (bereavement and other)
  • leave of absence

13. Compensation:

  • salary/wage (ranges and increments)
  • terms of payment (pay periods and deductions)
  • overtime
  • vacation pay
  • sick pay
  • benefits plan (mandatory, other, pension plan)
  • reimbursement of expenses (which expenses can be reimbursed and the reimbursement procedure)

It is the responsibility of the board to ensure that sound personnel policies exist for both paid and volunteer staff in order to hold board members and staff accountable.


Board and Staff - Who does what? (PDF)

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Early Learning and Child Care Program 210-114 Garry Street, Winnipeg MB R3C 4V4


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