Goodbye Governance, We Don't Need You Any More

Thursday, August 3, 2017

When it comes to managing your digital workplace, the worst word you can use is "governance."

Wait: before you snap your pencil in half or close this article, let me explain.

An Argument for Less Management

The word governance speaks of the past, of a time and a way of thinking that is replete with boardroom politics, stuffy decision making, and codifying rules, guidelines, regulations and compliance.

I'm not naive. Companies are, and will remain, intensely competitive and political environments.

But a vibrant and integral digital workplace (if it is to add any long-lasting value) has to provide staff flexibility in what they do, access and who they can connect with. Whilst at the same time, act as the platform that can focus everyone on the main point of concern for the organization at any given point in time.

Ultimately, it has to facilitate the best ways to bring staff together — and increase their connectedness and productivity as a result. If it cannot, it will quickly be sidelined. Staff will find another tool to use instead.

These issues are not easy to get right at the best of times. But as paradoxical as it sounds, we need to exert less (not more) control over how these networks are managed.

Over-Manage and Underdeliver

Years of poorly thought out (or designed) technology has encouraged too many layers of management, bureaucracy and control, often just to ensure it works.

But due to the better, cheaper, more reliable and even replaceable technology available today, we can easily provide control without adding a set of deadweight policies that inhibit how staff work. What is of utmost importance is having an integral technology like a digital workplace that can encourage more — not less — spontaneity and innovation.

Now for some, this may be a step too far. The fragility of how some companies are organized — perhaps in the aftermath of a merger or due to cultural questions or differences in geography — may mean top-down control is the best to aim for.

Some companies lack strong business purpose, which culminates in a tendency to over-manage how staff collaborate and network.

Yet other companies are taking more of a 'stand back and see' attitude. With this, they feel able to adapt quickly to changing markets or circumstances — an important business survival skill.

Getting to 'Yes' Instead of 'No'

By suggesting we do away with governance, I'm not advocating a descent into anarchy, where everyone can do whatever they choose.

They won’t. They will still have a specific role or job to play.

However, within the broader focus of what a company is trying to achieve — increase market share, standardize processes, grow new services — creativity and learning from failure should be encouraged. Inhibiting or constraining that process with too many rules is counterproductive.

Standards such as infrastructure or content taxonomy are important. But things are changing.

Imposing stringent governance on how we manage documents doesn’t seem as relevant today.

Previously you would ask employees to follow strict guidelines on metadata descriptions, tagging and more — often with limited results. But advances in search technology have relaxed these rules. Being heavy-handed with governance no longer applies — and that's a good thing.

Managing by Encouragement

Do we still need a core team managing how a digital workplace functions? Yes. But that team — call it an intranet management team, steering group, strategy team, what have you — should focus on encouraging change, innovation and (if you can hack it) experimentation.

The make-up of the team should mirror your overall purpose. If you’re focussing on communications, add experts who can create and curate great content. If, business improvement is your focus, include engineers and those at the forefront of rethinking (or purchasing) your internal processes.

But crucially, at an operational sense, the people on your management team must be proactive by nature. They must act as the eyes and ears for how your organization communicates and collaborates via your digital workplace, spotting any opportunities or issues early enough to ensure the ‘rot’ doesn’t set in.

Good Riddance Governance

A good digital workplace is the bellwether of your company culture. It is the most connected space you have. Does it have high adoption rates? Are staff using it to network across all silos? Are staff using the best sanctioned tools by using it?

Where stuff doesn’t work, your management team should take action immediately, suggesting new ideas to fix what’s broken. However, unlike a governance team with a clearly laid out agenda, this approach is all about balancing out business strategy with what's happening ‘on the ground.’

The people you choose as managers must be prepared to walk-the-talk and engage with staff (wherever they may be), rather than hiding away in the safety of your HQ tower behind a desk full of policies that start with the words "Thou shall not …."

Be gone with governance. And let’s learn from what happens next.