Three Common Governance Mistakes

A short treatise on three mistakes organizations commonly make when designing or extending governance programs. Loosely inspired by discussions about (but not written by) ChatGPT.

In the Style of…

In a previous role, my job was rebooting governance programs: business, data, and analytic. Brought in after the original consultants left, rote playbooks were not our gig. We didn’t simply swap out names on a predetermined governance org chart or regurgitate another client’s playbook with some surface tweaks. That would have been easier. But alas, no.

We were engaged to remodel and resurrect programs after this approach had been tried and failed: often painfully. After the thick governance binder—replete with org charts and process flows that looked eerily familiar but for the names and titles—got dusty on the shelf. When leaders picked straws for the right to not own the program. When executives routinely asked: we (still) need governance but can we call it something else this time?

Frameworks are frameworks for a reason. Yes, every governance program has similar elements. How they are instantiated, however, depends on the unique innerworkings of your organization. Your singular style, as it were. Mimicking the practices of others may look plausible on paper but it rarely works in practice.

Understanding Lies Beyond the Data

Decision rights—who needs to make what decisions—are the crux of governance. Success is not determined by the seniority of your governance council(s) or how many data stewards you have. Successful governance hinges on understanding how decisions are effectively made and made effective.

In other words, success depends on understanding how things get done in practice. If org charts truly reflected how influence flows, governance would be simple: see above and design a program “in the style of.” This is, regrettably, not the case.

In real life consequential decisions happen between and outside of documented lines. It is why transporting “culture” from one organization to another is so difficult. And why previously successful leaders may fail when moving to another company. Even when the new company is of like size and structure as the prior.

Therefore, it bears repeating: every governance blueprint should be unique. Effective governance accommodates your organization’s commonly known but undocumented interpersonal networks. These cannot be intuited or predicted based solely on a company’s HR hierarchy or the principles and policies available for digital analysis.

Last Updated: 2021 (!@#%&?)

Governance practices should be ever adapting because your business is ever changing. Leaders get promoted, demoted, leave, or are let go;as do the resources they manage. Corporate strategies start with a flare and, if they don’t flame out, are banked into operational embers. Business affiliations ebb and flow with changing economic tides. Customers grow with or out of your wares. Technology changes. New data is generated alongside new ways to exploit it. Risks, rewards, regulations, the list goes on.

I won’t recast my rants carefully constructed arguments on why critical thinking and a bias for change are the most critical pillars of effective governance. I will say this: If the same people sit on the same councils addressing the same issues, year over year, your governance efforts aren’t keeping up with the times.


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