Governance & Process

Governance Is All About Negotiation: Three Recommendations

…… Part of The Basics series. First published in January 2010 ……


After working on governance with many organizations over the years, I have concluded that governance is negotiation. It is a blend of control, politics, flexibility and common sense. It is built on “give and take”.

It is difficult to implement governance for 3 main reasons: (1) the right people are not involved in the decisions from the start, (2) different groups in the enterprise are making conflicting decisions and (3) decisions are made on paper and are theoretical, either superficial or too detailed.

What follows are my recommendations based on extensive experience with global, complex organizations.

1. Start by defining strategic principles before trying to make decisions on governance.

Once there is agreement on the principles, the governance decision-making process will be accelerated.  Examples of principles:

  • “The intranet will be structured in a user-logical way.”
  • “All staff will use the same entry page to enter the intranet.”
  • “The entry page will be customized.”
  • “Content will be managed at the lowest, accountable level in the organization.”

These sound simplistic, but getting agreement on them is not always easy. Once you have agreement on these or whatever principles are relevant for your organization, it is much easier to define exactly what will be done, by whom, how, etc.

2. Spend the necessary time working out decentralized publishing.

It is key to making the intranet business as usual. It is at the heart of embedding the intranet in the organization.

As you work on this, make sure you have the end-user involved in the process. Do not let the stakeholders or main content and service providers tell you they know what staff needs. They mean well, may have a lot of experience, but you should always make sure you have direct communication lines open with the end-users.

Although every organization needs to “find” the right balance of control and liberty, there are some fundamental principles that apply in all situations, or at least every situation I have seen.

A: Several paths for publishing

Intranets have different spaces with different dynamics and therefore different “rules of the game”. The place where reference documents are published will be managed very differently from where teams put their working documents and still differently from a “blog central” or space where users create content directly.

B: Responsibility with accountability

Keep the responsibility for publishing content at the lowest level possible, but at a level where the person is still accountable for the content.

C: Simplicity and trust

Have as little workflow and as few pre-publication approvals as possible.

3: Prioritize application development

The intranet and digital teams need to make decisions as to where to spend resources on new applications. They need guidelines for evaluating the impact of the development(s) on users and on the business. This requires working with the business and functional managers, and also end-users of the application. Of course, you’ll involve the “owners” of the app, but their views are often too subjective when asked what the impact will be.

Evaluate the the different development options by asking these five questions:

  1. Will this enable people to do something they could not do before?
  2. Will this enable people to do something better (faster, easier) than previously.
  3. Will this reduce costs?
  4. Will this increase our revenue?
  5. Will this bring a new or improved service to our customers (external, I mean).

You can then prioritize based on a simple rating scale where you weight the answers to the questions according to your organizations current and near future goals and needs.

Two critical pitfalls to avoid

A. Do NOT define the governance by a team located in head-quarters or the center of the organization. Involve a small, representative group of people throughout the organization.

B. Do NOT define governance by a group of “support” or “functional” people. (IT, HR and Communication managers.) Involve business people in the organization.

How, not what

My final comment – based on having worked with many organizations on their governance policies – is this:

“The WAY you define governance is more important than WHAT you define.”