By: Joanna Young (@JCYCIO) — “People who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything.” Thomas Sowell, Economist
Governance, stewardship, oversight – all necessary structures in organizations of any size. Appropriate governance results in swift decisions with correlation to swift realization of operational and strategic goals, as evidenced by Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). It’s also characterized by eagerness to engage in governance process. However, all too often governance is overweight or underweight.
Overweight structures are characterized by approval layers beyond sensible checks & balances, lengthy decision cycles, title-based vs. merit-based membership, and lack of employee engagement in the structure itself (e.g. reluctance to join or present to steering committees or working groups). Underweight structures are characterized by people, even up to the executive level, not knowing the pathway to decisions or approvals and wasting a lot of time trying to figure it out. There’s arguably a third category, the hub and spoke model, where a top executive (e.g. CEO, CFO) has a stranglehold on all decisions and inevitably is a bottleneck and barrier condition (not to mention a “lack of trust” dynamic; executives need decision-making power in order to be effective).
There’s no one size fits most or all with governance. However all governance should strive to do the following:
(1) Define success by making stuff, not meetings: The goal of work is to deliver – realizing strategy, delivering product, improving KPIs. It’s not to have meetings. Getting people
together should be in direct support of work: making decisions, solving problems. Analyze the actual output of governance; it should correlate to delivery.
(2) Empower the group; don’t just convene or assemble. Particularly if a group is getting together regularly, it needs to be empowered and be clear on what it is empowered to do. For
example, personnel decisions, vendor contracts, policy creation, re-allocation or assignment of resources. If the group just has to go elsewhere for approval on most or all things, then
the group is not empowered.
(3) Accountability and empowerment and go hand in hand. If a group makes decisions, but the accountability to enact the decision is largely delegated, that’s not true empowerment. If a group has the authority to determine KPIs and assign personnel, then they should accountable for ensuring KPIs are met, and personnel are enabled to meet or exceed the expectations of the
(4) Fast decision making as a baseline expectation: Sluggish decisions mean that upstream and downstream personnel and teams are in a wait state; this is a waste of resources. Slow decision- making has a variety of root causes. Insufficient preparation of data and reasoning. Fear of reprisal. Too many layers of approval. Analysis paralysis. Better to make a swift decision
with the right measures of success, and check the measures frequently (especially initially). Not making a decision – is (albeit often unconsciously) making a decision; a decision of
Governance models – when you’ve seen one, you’ve seen one. Analyzing and mapping the processes and output of current governance is worthwhile; this points out issues like delays or re-work, pointing the way to determine the “right weight” for your organization.
“When the best leader’s work is done the people say ‘we did it ourselves.’” Lao Tzu, philosopher