Thursday, January 31, 2013

Control, Governance, and Management

If you've ever gone through an oddly-structured, ill-timed, poorly-communicated reorganization (and who hasn't?) you are familiar with how screwed up something as simple as roles and responsibilities can become. Over the years, I've developed a simple way of helping clarify things. At least it has worked for me and others I've share it with.

Let's start by clarifying the nature of the oversight being discussed. This starts, as so many things do, with getting the terminology down. Our thoughts always follow our words.  So here is some terminology that I have used. The specific terminology isn't important, call things what you like. What is important is the way providing a definition dissects the differences in how we think.

Two of the critical natures that needs to be isolated are financial and authoritative. Borrowing from industry, these are generally referred to as Controls. There is usually a financial Control in place to authorize incurring a cost or paying a debt. Someone is always looking after the money. They control the finances. For small and medium organizations this is also the role providing the authority or direction. While the specific authorization varies by size of organization, the distinction of control is between the intent and the action.  For example, a corporate board would give intent and parameters of activity to an executive but would not actually oversee the carrying out of the action.  Similarly your boss might ask you to fill out a form but isn't going to stand around watching you do it or shuffle it off to human resources on your behalf.  They express an intent and parameters for action and leave the actual activity to you. Controls are the means we express intent, set parameters for and evaluate the results of actions.

Moving from the abstract down to the most concrete is another industry term referred to as Management. These are the boots on the ground, the supervisory hands and feet of the structure. This the guy in the hard-hat watching as the workers actually dig. It is how contributors get their activity assignments and to whom they report status and completion.  Management brings life by way of action to the intentions of Control.

The middle is where things tend to get complicated but if you've made it this far, you can likely see that we've set things up to address the middle quite cleanly. In translating intent to actions, there is an additional role that provides the decision-making, priority setting, and so forth necessary to ensure that the Management actions are achieving the intentions within the parameters of activity established by Control. This middle structure, which in industry parlance is often referred to as Governance, provides this necessary translation. It absorbs the feedback from failed or variant activity, and provides corrective and deterministic input to the actions as they progress. The provide a means for multiple types of activities with potentially conflicting agendas, skills, and maturity to cohesively fulfill a given intention.

Consider that a single intention ("build website") can have multiple approaches ("hire firm to build" vs "hire employee to build") and diverse activities ("create look and feel" vs "code database"). In even simple cases multiple contributors ("graphic artist" vs "sql developer") can be directed by multiple managers ("creative" vs "development") and they might have conflicting opinions on how to interpret the intention and parameters for the activity ("build website cheaply" vs "build website quickly" vs "build website with lots of bells and whistles").

Management addresses the differences in a specific interpretation ("build website as quickly as possible using our existing graphics and software"). Governance addresses the differences in the interpretation and the parameters of activity for the intention ("build website with this many bells and whistles and without buying new graphics or software"). Control addresses the differences in intention ("build website within this time frame and for this amount of money").

If you use the right terminology you can figure out the kind of conversation people think they are having during the confusing times. If they are trying to exert control, you can express that you believe control belongs somewhere else (or with you). If they are trying to exert management, you can express that you believe management belongs with you (or somewhere else). The point is that you don't have confront the content of their position, only the forum for discussion and resolution. This will often make it evident the different thinking about roles and responsibility. Once that issue is out and you are aligned, typically knocking out disagreements about how to move forward becomes vastly easier. Right or wrong, we might rarely be able to settle our differences on smaller issues ("the what should we do") if we have different ideas on the bigger issues ("the when and how we should do it"), or the large issues ("the why we do it").

Interestingly enough, the inverse of this technique is how we ensure we are able to evaluate the performance at each level.

Clear as mud?

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