Governance does not imply Command and Control

In a recent discussion I had on SOA Governance with Brenda Michelson, program director for the SOA Consortium, she passed along a link to this article from Business Week. It’s the story of Tom Coughlin, coach of the Super Bowl champion New York Giants, and how he had to change from his reputation of an “autocratic tyrant” in order for the team to ultimately succeed.

What does this have to do with governance? When you think of governance, what comes to mind? My suspicion is that for most people, it’s not a positive image. At its extreme worst, I’ve heard many people describe governance as a slow, painful process that requires investing significant time preparing for a review by people who are out of touch with what a project is trying to do that ultimately results in the reviewers flaunting authority, the project team taking their lumps, and then everybody goes back to doing what they were doing with no real change in behavior other than increased animosity in the organization. In other words, exactly the situation that Tom Coughlin had with previous teams.

The fact is that governance is a required activity of any organization. Governance is the way in which an organization leverages people, policies, and processes to achieve a desired behavior. In the case of the New York Giants, their desired behavior was winning the Super Bowl. In years past, only people involved with setting the policies was the coaching staff, and the processes consisted of yelling and screaming. It didn’t work. When the desired behavior wasn’t achieved, change was needed, and that change was made in the governance. Players became involved in setting policies through a leadership council. That same council also became part of the governance process in both educating other players about the policies as well as ensuring compliance.

Unfortunately, when governance gets discussed, people naturally assume a command and control structure. When an individual sees a new statement “Thou shall do this” or “Thou shall not do that,” they think command and control, especially if they weren’t involved with the setting of the policy. As we grow, this sentiment becomes increasingly important. How many of us that live in large countries feel our politicians are disconnected from us, even if they are elected representatives? Those policies still need to be set, however, and there will always be a need for some form of authority to establish the policies. The key is how the “authority” is established and how they then communicate with the rest of the organization. If the authority is established by edict, and only consists of one-way communication (down) from the authority, guess what? You have a dictatorship with a command-and-control structure. If you set up representative groups, whether formal or informal, and focus on bi-directional communication, you can conquer that command-and-control mentality. The risk with that approach is that the need for “authority” is forgotten. Decisions still must be made and policies must be set, and if the group-think can’t do that, there will still be problems. Morale may not impacted in the same negative way as a command-and-control approach, but the end result is that you’re still not achieving the desired behavior.

Good governance is necessary for success, and open communication and collaboration is necessary for good governance. My recommendation is that if you are an in a position of authority (a policy setter and/or enforcer), you must keep the lines of communication open with your constituents and help them to set policies, change policies that are doing more harm than good, and understand the reasons behind policies. If you are a constituent, you need to participate in the process. If a policy is causing more harm than good in your opinion, make it known to the authorities. Sometimes that may result in a policy change. Sometimes it may result in you changing your expectations and seeing the reasons why compliance is necessary.

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