Create Clear Governance: Enabling Good Decision Making In Complex Organisations

Organizations fail to manage information well for a variety of reasons – lack of skills, insufficient resources, unclear objectives, inconsistent processes, etc. However, many of these reasons stem from one root cause: different groups within the organization make conflicting decisions about what to prioritize, which standards to apply, which processes and tools to use, and so on.

These conflicting decisions in turn divert our resources from the most important issues, increase costs (e.g., by creating duplication and rework), slow down execution, and reduce the quality of the final outcomes. The politicking that surrounds such decision making can also add significant costs (financial and human) and delays to the decision making process itself. Resolving these conflicts is the realm of governance.

Solution statement

Governance is “the process whereby societies or organizations make important decisions, determine whom they involve and how they render account”. Good governance allows organizations to make effective decisions, to make them in an efficient way, and to monitor and refine the outcomes of these decisions so as to improve overall organizational performance.

By separating the decision making process and associated roles and responsibilities from the decision itself, and by agreeing to this process up front, clear governance allows people to focus their energy on understanding the issues and identifying good solutions.

Without this focus, people often spend a lot of time deciding who needs to be consulted and defining a decision making process, detracting attention from the decision itself. At worst, decision making then degenerates into politicking and indecision. This “best practice” looks at some of the factors one might consider when establishing appropriate governance structures and processes for information management within an organization.

Skills statement

The nature of an organization is tightly linked to its governance. For example, some organizations favor highly centralized decision making whereas others devolve most decisions to local bodies. Some organizations are autocratic whereas others favor a more consensual style. There is no one right way to govern, but rather one should strive to define a governance framework that matches his organization’s culture, its competitive environment, and the nature of its products and markets. In order to do this, one needs to possess skills in the following areas:

  • Strategic Insight. The governance framework should focus attention on the most important decisions. In order to identify which decisions have most impact, one must be able to link information management processes, policies and priorities to the organization’s overall strategic goals.
  • Sensitivity. People care a lot about decision rights. Awareness of the personal and cultural issues that surround decision making rights and processes will be critical to success, as will being able to match the governance framework to norms within the organization. Sensitivity to the political climate and power structures within the organization are also important, as these will determine many aspects of how governance is implemented. For example, this awareness will likely play into choosing the right battles, i.e., knowing when to push for a particular solution and when to back off.
  • Change management. Establishing governance often involves making changes to other structures and processes. It may even be part of a conscious effort to change elements of the organizational culture. This requires all the skills that go with any substantive change program – communication, listening, persuasion, enthusiasm, planning, and so on.
  • Domain Expertise. Many people equate defining governance with setting up information management policies and standards. It can be seen from the above that governance actually needs to address a broader, more strategic, remit if it is to succeed. Nonetheless, many elements of the governance framework may ultimately be implemented through detailed policies and the like. Thus, one may also need to bring substantial domain expertise to bear, in order to define these elements effectively.

It is evident that defining a governance framework is not a trivial task. To be successful, you will need substantial experience both with information management and with general and change management.

Dr Graham Oakes is a highly skilled systems engineer and project manager with over 20 years’ industry-proven experience backed by a track record of delivering highly innovative and effective solutions. Graham helps people untangle complex technology, relationships, processes and governance. As an independent consultant, he helps organisations such as Sony Computer Entertainment, The Open University, the Council of Europe and the Port of Dover to define strategy, initiate projects and hence run those projects effectively. Prior to going independent, he held positions including Director of Technology at Sapient, and Head of Project Management for Psygnosis (a subsidiary of Sony). His book, Project Reviews, Assurance and Governance, was published by Gower in October, 2008.