Governance: Who Should Come to the Party?

I fell into a discussion on the Chief Learning Officer network early this morning that asked, “What is the most effective governance model?” The second part of the question was, “How do you ensure the governance meets your performance objectives?” Having been up to my hocks in forming and storming through the birthing pains of several governance efforts, I had to shake off the tremors before I could offer a suggestion. It was actually the second part of the question that pulled my trigger. Granted, I did not [do not] fully understand what definition of “performance objectives” may have been implied, nevertheless, the trigger was tripped…and the response went something like this… though I may have just now edited in or out some things under the influence of three more cups of coffee since the CLO response. Just sayin…

I think the most accurate answer to your question is the stock consultant’s reply…”It depends!” Ask 10 to describe governance and likely get ten answers with each carrying a truth relevant to their respective business context. Short answer, I am not sure there IS a single best practice out there to model. And I’m not sure reaching “performance objectives” was [or is] a viable goal of governance. But that is based on my assumption of what you may or may not mean by “performance objectives…”

Here is one approach my team took a few years back that seemed to work well. The context of forming this governance was the introduction of a new Learning Management System (LMS) into a virgin environment where there was no LMS. We’re talking scary and brand new…

Governance started with a tactical level group [Directors & Mgrs & Power-users] that crossed over from L&D [my team who owned the LMS] to key stakeholder groups that would soon be impacted and …would support…would use…would own content…would integrate with…would hate…would embrace. Those key members came from several operational entities across the business…our most important members being from IS/IT…members from HR, and it included an accessible, visible respected executive sponsor. While IS/IT was one of the most important from a tactical perspective, the success hung on the passion and engagement of our executive sponsor – reference Change Leadership 101.

The charter for this governance body focused on changing the face of learning at company X through the integration of technology [based on tactical integration]. And they did. And without engaging ALL of them in the process, we would have been doomed from the start. Their role became part of the celebration at GoLive deployment, but their role continued in a tactical vein as we implemented deeper into the organization. Note the distinction between deployment and implementation. It is critical to move beyond the deployment party and begin the real work that is part of implementation. Tactical governance has a duty across this continuum.

But it did not stop there. A higher tier of strategic governance formed later…but before GoLive…to address where we might go with this new technology. Integration at this level ensured tight alignment with the Strategic Plan. Some might call this level of governance a “Steering Committee” or something similar. Granted we had to do this to gain funding in the first place but had not formed strategic governance for that singular effort.

This strategic level had a couple of the Directors off the tactical governance but also had higher level VP and Sr. VP levels who were tasked with a different charter that included strategic prioritization and financial planning to support funding for growth and enhancements [like integrating LMS with HR Performance Management, and adding a Virtual Classroom in the next fiscal year, etc.].

I chose this path because the higher-level strategists do not do well in planning tactical adventures and for the most part, technology scares them. When confronted with a technical decision that requires a technical answer, you’ve lost them…and your opportunities to gain necessary funding…and rightly so, as that is not their function. So tactical played with tactical, and strategic had their own strategic party.

The strategists and policy-makers and planners-of-the-use-of-monies think in different terms. They understand business outcomes, and returns on investment, and the power of sustainability, and development of capacity, and willingly fund initiatives that drive effective workforce performance from valid evidence of previous successes [benchmarking efforts, etc.].

True, the LMS contributes to those things, but they could care less “what” makes it happen or “how” works the magic of technology…only that it “does” and produces tangible business results. They want to see what we plate, not what we do or how we do it in the kitchen. Hence, we formed a second level of governance and a different “speak” around their table.

Some may argue you can mix both. In our circumstances, we could not. Maybe we were too large and complex an organization. Maybe a smaller company could pull it off. Methinks it is a case-by-case call, and it is a function of what the governance charter is tasked to do.

Why I question the governance role in meeting “performance objectives” is their role of advisor-ship as opposed to tactical execution. Some governance members may be the ones managing those who turn the crank of progress within the company, but the role of the governance is better served by determining which crank to turn…in which direction to turn it…how fast…how long…and to recognize when it’s time to stop or switch cranks.

My background has a deep emphasis on leading Change within the organization. Because of that I look at governance as an outcome of holistic Change Leadership principles. Case in point, our Sponsor was a key ingredient to our success. She was only one person, but her role, her visibility, her reputation as an early adopter, her accessibility to the team, and her engagement built a critical link between the tactical governance of implementation and the strategic governance of integrating “the kitchen” into the company’s long-term strategy.

Have any of you had different experiences related to the formation of governance? I think there would be value in sharing what did and what did not work in order to keep those heading down that path from making the same mistakes. I welcome your feedback either  way!

Need help building a charter for your governance? We should chat…

Gary G. Wise
Workforce Performance Advocate, Coach, Speaker 
(317) 437-2555
Web: Living In Learning