Governance is the term used to describe the formal and informal set of processes that allow organizations to resolve conflicts, make decisions and ensure management decisions and policies are enforced through the management hierarchy. Governance is a top-down management process and works as follows:

If an organization implements a policy, the head of the organization needs to hold the managers in the organization accountable to make sure the policy is followed.

Each manager then makes sure that his direct reports adhere to the policy. If they have managers that report to them, they need to hold those managers accountable as well, and so it goes down the management structure.

Governance also needs to include mechanisms to ensure that the policies are being followed and some rewards or consequences exist for following or not following the rules.

Governance is needed to enforce standards

All organizations have standards. Standards are a required way to do something. For instance, your organization may have one or two databases that must be used by the development staff. Your organization may also have a standard workstation configuration, a standard set of consulting vendors and a standard look and feel for all web applications.

If your organization has standards, you might wonder why everyone doesn’t just follow them because they are standards. There are two reasons. First, everyone in the organization is not always aware of the standards. This is especially true when people are new.

The second reason is that people think their way of doing things is better than the standard. For instance, a developer may feel that a third database product is better for his or her system, even though the organization has two standard databases to pick from. Organizational standards typically reflect the best interest of the organization, even though the standard may not always be the best solution for any individual problem.

How well does your organization enforce standards?

Let’s look more closely at the prior example. A particular development project team feels a third database solution is right for them, even though it does not meet the existing standards. How does your organization respond? If management does not know what is going on, or if they know but allow the third database to be used, then you probably have a weak governance process. That is, the closest levels of management are not enforcing the standard, and there are no consequences for going outside of standard – either to the project team or the managers involved.

On the other hand, say management is watching what is going on, and checks and balances are built into processes. For instance, the project manager does not have the authority to sign a vendor contract. This brings exposure to what is going on. The first level manager realizes that bringing in a third database is a problem. The manager also knows that if she does nothing, she in turn will be questioned by her manager and could potentially face some consequences. In this type of environment, the governance process appears to be stronger since there are effective checkpoints when management involvement is required, and there is a sense that managers will be held accountable if things don’t work as they should.

(To be fair in the prior example, there should always be a process to gain an exception to a standard. However, in that case, the exception process should be followed rather than just ignoring the standard.)

Management governance is required in organizational change

The effectiveness of your management governance is based on two competing factors. The first is how well your organization enforces current standards, policies and processes. The second, and perhaps more important, area is how well your organization implements change.

Organizations must change to remain relevant, implement strategies and achieve goals. Managers, especially middle managers, are the people who will make or break change initiatives. If senior management wants to move an organization in a certain way, but the middle managers ignore the directives, the initiative will not be successful. Governance means that executive managers ensure that the senior managers carry out their directives, and that senior managers are checking on middle managers, and that middle managers are checking on project managers. If a manager within the organization is not enforcing the organization’s directives, then he needs to face consequences from his manager. This is all a part of the management governance process.

Managers should look in the mirror if the organization does not accept change

Take a look at your organization. If you generally have a tough time implementing change, it is typically not the employees’ fault – it is management’s fault, either because of a poor change implementation process or through ineffective governance. For example, if the CIO is not able to implement a change initiative within her own IT organization, the CIO has herself to blame. Any manager that cannot successfully implement change within his own organization has himself to blame. Governance starts at the top of the organization and moves down. Ineffective management governance at the top dooms the chance for success on the way down.

Look at your organization. If your standards are a joke and you have a hard time instituting organizational change, then you have a poor management governance process. On the other hand, if you have good processes, standards and policies that are generally followed, and you fight the good fight to successfully implement change on an ongoing basis, you probably have pretty good governance in place.

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