Governance is a fundamental enabler of any transformation effort. While sound governance design is a must, success depends on sustained execution to keep alignment between goals and implementation efforts.
Successful transformation depends on a set of strong fundamentals. At the start of a program, the really important things get much attention i.e. top leadership declares full commitment; the initiative has critical mass and momentum behind it; goals communicated clearly. Yet success can be elusive, and comes at a price – of time delays, overspend, friction within the organisation. We believe this is often the result of underestimating governance, particularly in its execution. This is interesting, especially since fixing this problem does not require huge monetary investment and substantially increases chances of success of the program.
Governance is an essential enabler to any coordinated effort. Sometimes, there are issues with design. But even when design is excellent, by itself it is not sufficient, and when execution starts, problems crop up quickly. Why? Because people often misunderstand governance. Here are a few common misconceptions:
Governance = Bureaucracy. Nobody likes the b-word. Instinctively, it runs against the idea of change, transformation and agility. It gets in the way of moving fast and “getting things done”. This leads to “governance-light” approaches, where people cut corners on communication and due process. The result is usually lack of alignment between effort and goals.
Governance = Admin. Setting up meetings and taking attendance are part of governance. Surely a program needs quite a bit of this to run smoothly – as well as taking notes, recording actions, issues, risks, and circulating documentation . But these are just means to an end, not the purpose itself. This is a reductive perspective and underestimates the role of governance as a way to structure decision making.
Governance = Get Everyone Involved. One critical success factors for most meetings is to keep some people out the door. But it can be difficult as quote a few people think that being involved means attending a lot of meetings. Whenever you are in a meeting where some attendees do not add to the conversation (or worse hijack the agenda), you are dealing with Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) of “not being included”. By-products are lower productivity, water-logging the decision process, and encouraging lower focus on one’s specific brief and priority issues.
Governance is often considered “the death of Agility”, a set of menial administrative activities not to be over engineered. Usually, senior decision makers agree and sign off to a certain governance design at inception of the program – and promptly hand over day-to-day execution to more junior, less experienced resources. This is when things compound in the wrong way and problems arise. As soon as there is deviation from the agreed governance process, there is little resistance or ability to push back by the very people who should safeguard this process. And that is when even good design fails through poor execution.
Governance is a critical enabler for any transformation effort, one that will definitely increase the chance of success when set up right and carried out correctly. It is how an organisation makes decisions, allocates responsibility, and ensure alignment on goals and execution among different parties. Setting up and executing good governance delivers several tangible assets:
A clear blueprint of roles and responsibilities. It gives clarity as to who has accepted to deliver what, and where bottlenecks or roadblocks may form during the delivery of the program.
A transparent allocation of decision making rights. It defines those entitled to debate, review, approve or decide something, and those who are not. In addition, it also defines where and when such decisions can be made. Good governance provides both the checks and balances to ensure all relevant views are incorporated in a decision, as well as a way to ensure that appropriate delegation of power is in place to move things along at the right pace.
A way to provide direction and accountability. Governance gives directions to ensure people know what to do and when – how escalate what, how to deal with problem issues at the right level and at the right time, while at the same time people in the organisation are accountable towards their own decisions.
A communication structure to manage the formal information flow. Information flows across an organisation in many different ways and forms. Governance provides the one set of communications that serves as the official version of events.
There are a few things one can do to ensure governance execution is good for gold. Most may sound simple. But the day-to-day delivery of a program needs discipline and experience to sustain the effort over the longer run:
Size to program and decentralise decision making. Larger programs may need more complex governance. Good design spreads decisions rights beyond a limited set of individuals, to improve the flow of the program. This avoids bottlenecks, speeds up decision making and ensures that all constituencies feel represented. The added benefit is that more individuals feel empowered, accountable and trusted with making decisions. As a result, the overall team will feel more engaged and productive.
Be extremely clear and explicit about the purpose of each forum and goals of each meeting. Each interaction and forum created for the running of the program must have a specific function and purpose. Attendance should reflect this fact. Be strict in enforcing who attends what meeting, and that each meeting reaches its purpose. This will eliminate wasteful meetings, and avoid people showing up and not following the engagement rules. It also means that attendance is not optional for those expected to come. Not showing up means either not having a say in certain decisions, or carrying the blame for a delay.
Experience counts when enforcing governance. Make sure someone experienced is in charge of enforcing governance throughout. While the previous elements are still part of design, success really has to do with execution. This is critical to ensure the program integrity throughout its delivery. When people start misusing forums or abdicating their agreed responsibilities, someone has to call them out and put things back in place. It takes confidence, gravitas and diplomacy to do this. Put in this role someone experienced enough to feel comfortable in pushing back and “saying no” to people when appropriate, no matter their level in the organization. This will ensure that meetings and agendas serve their purpose.
Do it once, do it right. Ensure people understand their right of attendance to particular meetings is also a duty. This means attendees must make the time to prepare for meetings, so that they can contribute rather than just participate. Once the right forum discusses an issue, and a decision is taken, the process moves on. No replays.
Good governance is about better decision making done faster, taking initiative and moving things along. If done right, it enables to increase the speed of execution of your organisation and a great risk management tool. Your organisation will be able to reduce waste by way of less time spent in unnecessary meetings and less re-work. And your teams will be more motivated and productive, as they have clarity on their ability to make decisions. Good design is necessary but insufficient without sustained execution. Putting an experienced hand in charge of governance is one of the highest return investments an organisation can make for their programs.
This article is part of a series dedicated to delivering successful transformation. Content is based on our real-life experience as advisors to clients on transformation programmes, and it does represent our opinion. Feel free to disagree and/or challenge our thinking – as long as you do so in a constructive way. At nest consulting, we assist companies develop a robust and agile approach to deliver lasting and successful transformation. Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how we can help overcome any business transformation challenges.