Understanding Governance by Michael Soule
Every organization struggles with the question of how to establish and maintain good governance.
Even the definition of governance can be a challenge. Just like the descriptors “environmental” or “sustainable” can mean different things, so too can the term “governance”.
Nevertheless, we as leaders must constantly strive to understand and improve the governance in our organizations.
Here are five essential tools to help leaders understand, nurture, and transform their organization’s governance.
- Know the difference between governance and management.
When you begin to sort out your governance structure, this will help you be clear and avoid too much overlap between different groups. Management, in a nutshell, has to do with operations, and governance has to do with structure, roles and responsibilities, but the differences go deeper than this. (See the article in our resources section.)
- Know the different basic types of governance models.
Understanding the principles of different models will help you be smart in defining your own
path, deciding when your organization needs to change or choosing a prescribed model. Below is a good outline that explores the different types and some of the possibilities and challenges of each.
- Know the history of governance in your organization.
Understanding the biography of your organization and its path of governance will give you insights into the potential future. There are many ways to approach this. This is often the first step in any major capital campaign and an important part of renewing your mission statement.
- Know the capacities of the people currently in the organization.
Understanding the capacities of each other will help you create roles and responsibilities that fit your particular situation. Spending time regularly to share individual biographies and life stories, to share personal and professional goals and to share self-assessments can help strengthen this.
- Be very clear about specific roles and responsibilities and the relationship between individuals and groups in the organization.
Overlapping roles and unclear roles are two of the primary areas that cause difficulties in an organization. There are also various ways to work on this – practicing the basics of a mandate organization (See article in the resource section) to implementing a RACI model are two promising ways.
The Heart of Governance: Agreements
An organization’s governance system is primarily a set of agreements. The organization’s success depends upon the nature of those agreements, including how they come about, how they are maintained and how they are reviewed and renewed. Agreements (like job descriptions, committee mandates, bylaws, mission statements, polices, handbooks, etc) are best when they:
- Reflect the organization’s values and mission and help people feel connected to the whole organization.
- Are clearly written, regularly reviewed and revised with the participation of those they effect.
- Identify the pathways for collaboration and communication and outline processes for navigating changes
Understanding the importance of agreements and the role they play in the governance can bring great clarity to the leadership of an organization.
In the end, whether you follow a specific governance model or whether you create a hybrid form that meets your unique needs and skills, the underlying keys to success are the agreements that you are able to articulate, follow and renew. Personal relationships may carry the organization forward for a while but when life changes, the ways in which you have articulated the qualities of those relationships in the structural documents of your governance will be a guiding wisdom that will allow for health to continue in the organization.
Good governance is like good leadership; it is relational, responsive and self-aware. It strengthens relationships and a sense of community, building connection and trust. It builds confidence when it responds to needs in a direct and timely way. It creates a culture of self awareness and reflection that supports continual meaningful development.