Spice up your governance

Spice up your governance

Take a calculated risk and spice up your governance bodies with a new non-executive member.

It is difficult to conceive of a CIO who, in his or her career, has not encountered some level of executive lack of interest in IT. Last month I talked about this as the first of our three typical causes of IT leadership deadlocks. In particular, I looked at IT-related communications as not pushing executive “hot buttons” and not connecting with business issues. The use of story telling, visual communications, facilitated play and simulation were explored as possible remedies for this situation. Executive indifference to IT is most damaging when coupled with poor governance and lack of ownership and accountability for IT-intensive business projects. These are the two other IT leadership deadlocks. No doubt you will have encountered situations where all three of these circumstances exist, and all too often each is a by-product of the other. Let’s now look at a technique you can use to break the second IT leadership deadlock—lack of effective governance.

IT governance bodies are established to positively impact the outcomes of IT performance. When CIOs master governance, they not only deliver business value, they can deliver competitive advantage and they can help make the enterprise a better place to work. While marginal governance relies on bureaucracy and good governance implements checks and balances, great governance develops a mind-set that infuses all decision-making organically and effectively. It is simple, highly integrated, and focused on a few key value propositions.

Many organisations fall well short of great governance. There are many reasons for this, including the lack of a clear charter and agreed scope, lack of senior executive attendance or engagement and, most damagingly, “groupthink” —where everyone has similar experience, and is making the same assumptions. So what are some ways to “spice up” your governance approach and ensure your governance bodies have a powerful impact on IT performance?

Groupthink occurs where everyone ends up agreeing with each other and there is little diversity in opinions and approaches. This can come from people who have similar backgrounds and personal styles, or from internal political issues — where no one wants to stick out from the pack, or be seen to disagree with the powers that be. In this very common situation, consider adding a non-executive to the IT steering group. I know of three CIOs among our Gartner Executive Programme members in APAC who have adopted this approach. These CIOs have found someone from outside their company, with some kind of relevant expertise, to sit on their IT steering group. Commonly, they could be an IT executive from a different industry, a consultant or a recent retiree. Two of these CIOs have applauded this untraditional approach—but one has abandoned it as being found to be culturally unacceptable within their organisation. Nevertheless, she still is pleased to have conducted this experiment as it did bring some of the issues with the existing committee to the surface.

There are at least two benefits to having non-executives on an IT steering committee. First, they bring a different perspective, and some different experiences that may be adaptable to your business. Second, they are normally politically neutral and have no need or desire to agree with, or placate, anyone in your business. This means they can ask taboo questions, ask naïve questions and generally respond in an unbiased fashion. A third potential benefit is that having a non-executive on an IT steering committee may improve the running of the steering committee itself, either because the non-executive brings in good practices from elsewhere, or because internal members of the steering committee are less comfortable displaying ineffective behaviours in front of the non-executive (such as coming to the meeting ill-prepared, or beating up on the IT organisation).

When considering whether to invite a suitable non-executive to your steering committee, remember that this approach invites risk as well as reward. Take care to canvass the right sponsorship and ensure that the nominated addition to the committee has the right approval from a political perspective. However, please don’t dismiss this suggestion out of hand. The Harvard Business Review advises: “Making good decisions is one of the hallmarks of high performing organisations. When we surveyed executives at 350 global companies about their organisational effectiveness, only 15 percent said they have an organisation that helps them outperform competitors. What sets these top performers apart, is the quality, speed and execution of their decision making. They truly shine when it comes to the critical operating decisions requiring consistency and speed—how to drive product innovation, the best way to position brands, how to manage channel partners.” To help your organisation “truly shine”, break the IT leadership deadlock of poor IT governance. Take a calculated risk and spice up your governance bodies with a new non-executive member.

Linda Price is group vice-president, executive programmes, Gartner. Email comments to

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