What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word governance? I asked my wife this the other day and she said governance to her sounded like big brother watching over things. She said that she associated the word with something negative but then quickly thought there is probably a good reason for a governing model. There are two types of governance, offensive and defensive. Most of us think of the defensive type when we think of governance. Defensive governance is viewed in terms of rules, guidelines and boundaries, they are designed to protect the organization. Offensive governance is meant to support growth in the organization. Both are needed for organizations to function but how exactly do you keep a team engaged and free from feeling the oppressiveness of defensive governance, while at the same time, putting structure in place to protect the organization and ensure its growth?

A standard governance framework includes the following characteristics:

  • Accountability
  • Transparency
  • Effectiveness/Efficiency/Responsiveness
  • Equity and Inclusiveness

These characteristics are included in every governance structure whether acknowledged or not, and whether measured or not. The higher the organizational complexity and the more valuable the intellectual property, the greater the need for governance. An example of defensive governance is a process used frequently in the information technology world called change control. In some work environments the IT systems are complex and connected through various interfaces. If a change is made in one system it could easily break a connection made to another system and stop the important flow of data from one place to another where it may be needed for business operations. In this case governance is defending system integration and integrity. It makes sense to most people who are involved except for the end user who is dealing with an issue. The IT person says they have a fix but they need to run it through the change control process to ensure system integrity. The end user thinks they should just make the change, it seems so simple and shouldn’t impact anything else.

The end user in this case may have prior experience with inefficient governance, which can be an innovation killer. If governance stops the free flow of ideas because it takes too long to either be resolved or implemented, people will stop bringing ideas and the company will stop growing. There are some simple, but important imperatives that need to be included with a governance program that can help with ineffectiveness and add confidence in the program.

  • Accountability

There needs to be ownership! Each and every initiative, whether a change or a new idea, has to have an individual assigned as an owner. This person needs to understand that they own the initiative and what their responsibilities are. Too often, issues sit on the agenda for weeks on end because no one really owns it, that is frustrating to everyone involved.

  • Transparency

If there is even a sniff of secrecy or the sense that one initiative is more important than the other because of a hidden agenda, credibility will be lost. Some initiatives will be more important than others, but be forthright about which ones are a priority and why. Allowing all stakeholders to see where a request or initiative is in the process will help as well. Make whatever is being reviewed available for everyone to see.

 

  • Effectiveness/Efficiency/Responsiveness

One way to improve in this area is to simply provide information to the individual who may have made a request. Not responding to those who are engaged enough to make requests for change or introduce new ideas will stop it from happening altogether. There is no magic here, just good communication. Another way to increase effectiveness is to ensure that all key stakeholders are present at governance events, A.K.A. meetings. If key people are not going to be present, they need to send someone who can make a decision in their absence. This too is a reason initiatives sit on the agenda for weeks on end.

  • Equity and Inclusiveness

This one is difficult to manage. One on hand, everyone wants to be included, on the other hand, if too many are included in the process, agreement may be hard to come by. One way to deal with this may be by having a core group of stakeholders included in every governance event but also include those from outside of the group when their initiative is being discussed or decided. This will make them feel like a part of the process but will keep the program from being too overgrown for its own good. Ideas that go into a black hole only to return with a yes or no attached to them will have a short lifespan!

Sometimes it does not matter how much proof you show to the organization that governance is imperative for a strong outcome. After talking over and over again about how good governance is for the organization, it never fails someone will say, “Can’t I just make changes whenever I want to?” The leader explains again that a good governance structure should be so engaging that you wouldn’t think about making changes to a production environment without running it by the team and seeing how it might impact other areas.

Will governance ever be easy? No, never, but the challenge of leadership is to make a governance program so good, that people like my wife will think of the benefits of it before they think of the oppressiveness of it. Governance is complex, difficult, and on the whole, thankless. Governance can either be a culture killer or a business enabler, it is up to leadership to either own it and guide it or let it run by itself.

 

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