imageHow many of you read that headline quickly and thought it said, “Has Your Government Gone Too Far?” I was afraid of that when I was writing this post, as it seems like politics is on everyone’s mind these days. But this article isn’t about government, though it is about rules, and more importantly, rules that go too far.

At C5 Insight, we sit at the intersection of people, process and technology, so naturally we spend a good bit of time helping organizations design and develop their overall governance strategy to effectively manage and bring all 3 of these into alignment. In our daily work, we see a lot of governance plans, and oftentimes an organization will come to us to help them “untangle” their governance plan, or with a challenge such as user adoption, that ultimately leads back to a governance issue. What I want to discuss in the article is something I have been seeing for the past few years, and talk about often. Governance that goes too far.

The Intent of Good Governance

You’ll find many definitions for governance on the Internet, so I won’t attempt yet another definition here. But what I would like to do is define what good governance should do. In my opinion, governance was always meant to help establish the “rules of the road.” Another way I like to say it is that governance should “define the ditches”, but ultimately people are free to move back and forth in the road, so long as they stay between the ditches (here in the south, we have many rural roads that are defined by ditches on both sides). In other words, yes, the local law (rule) says to drive on the right side of the road, but it also says you are allowed to pass in the left lane when the lane markings indicate it is safe. Every organization has ditches – those off-limits areas where a user has gone too far – but in an effort to make sure nothing slips through the cracks and to “protect” themselves, we often see organizations define not only the ditches, but also things like the time of day and the color of the car that you can drive on the road. This, is governance gone wrong.

The Impact of Bad Governance

Did you know that there are there are more than 14,000 federal, state and industry laws, standards and regulations that dictate how long to keep paper and electronic records? (Source: Cadence Group, 2011) I can promise you – no matter how regulated your industry – your organization doesn't need to implement every single one of these. Yet time and time again we see organizations building such elaborate rules into their governance plans that it actually affects the very way employees are collaborating and working together. We see the negative impact of this manifest itself in many ways, but here are 3 ways that too much governance will adversely affect your organizations ability to collaborate and innovate.

  1. Low user adoption
    I mentioned it above, but one of the most common reasons for low user adoption with collaborative tools is because it’s simply difficult to use, often because of many layers of governance that prevent someone from doing what they need. The truth is, employees don’t mind following the rules, but make the implementation of the rules friction-free – in other words, make it easy for them to follow the rules. The more barriers and layers you put in place for your users, the less likely they are to simply not use the solution you gave them.

  2. People doing their own thing
    And when you don’t give people the solution and platform to do what they need, they will find a different way to get the job done. Every one of us wants to do our job well and be a solid performer. But when performance goes down because it’s “hard to use the tools”, people find different/better tools. We see it all the time. Users within an organization using their own Dropbox, Box, or Google Drive to store and share documents, or simply storing it locally on their desktop or in an email, locked-up tight where no one but themselves can find it. Give people the tools and processes, help them understand why they are doing it this way, and make it easy for them to do it that way.

  3. Unnecessary upkeep
    Lastly, when you create a governance monstrosity, someone has to maintain this. A governance plan should evolve with the organization, so there should be a team of folks who provide oversight for the plan. Most often this is some form of Steering Committee. The more rules you have, the more difficult it is to both manage and monitor. And in most organizations, managing the governance plan is not a full-time job. So don’t make it more difficult than it has to be.

In the end, when governance goes too far, it actually prevents your users from collaborating, innovating, and working together in a meaningful way.

Rigid at the Core – Flexible at the Edges

Ok, so this is all well and good, but how do we actually do this? The way I describe this when speaking with clients or in presentations at conferences it is to be rigid at the core and flexible at the edges. Every organization has those non-negotiables that simply have to be in place - retention policies, specific metadata, legal or regulatory compliance, etc. This is your core. You must put these things in place and you should, but make them as easy as possible. Everything else is your edges. In practical terms, these are your collaborative or social communities on your Intranet where people come together to work on specific tasks, or the documents that a manager and an employee work on together for a quick brainstorming task. Most items that we see governed at this level are done so out of preference (the need or fear to control) and not out of principle. Your HR department will not collaborate the same way as your engineering group; and they shouldn’t. Make it easy for people to collaborate and innovate in their own way.

imageAs every organization transforms into a digital business, it will be critical for there to be a solid governance strategy in place to manage this intersection of people, process and technology. At C5 Insight, we believe in good governance, and we’re always trying to make it easier for folks to do something (don’t boil the ocean, just start somewhere). We’ve recently developed a set of Governance services and toolkits for organizations of all sizes, and I’d love to know your feedback. You can read more about these here.

Good LUCK on your governance endeavors, and please don’t hesitate to shoot us a message if you’d like to know more about our process, methodologies or how we’re helping organizations work together better.