Governance or guidance?

While governance is a requirement for accounting information and business process, it may or may not be appropriate for every IT project. The necessarily constrictive nature of a governance model may prove too inflexible for your users – or your organization.

Most organizations these days are talking about governance. The public accounting scandals over the last few years have developed an awareness of the need to control accounting information and keep it on the up and up. While governance is a requirement for accounting information and business process, it may or may not be appropriate for every IT project. The necessarily constrictive nature of a governance model may prove too inflexible for your users — or your organization.

What does governance mean?

Governance means creating a state of control. This means that you are preventing people from following bad paths and are forcing them through the process that you define to follow the right path. This is true even for the poor square peg who is forced through your round hole process.

Governance conjures up words like: barrier, check point, approval, prevent, block, and stop in the mind of those who come across it. It is sometimes perceived as a hindrance designed to prevent you from achieving what you seek.

What is the alternative to governance?

The alternative to governance is guidance. Guidance is the act of steering or directing things down a path. The subtle difference between controlling something and steering it changes the entire context of the message. Guidance evokes the words herd, educate, facilitate, enable, and support rather than the more restrictive words associated with governance. You change the context by approaching it with a different core belief.

What is the real difference?

The difference between governance and guidance is not in the results that they achieve, but in their approach to the results. A governance approach creates processes, approval boards, questionnaires, and checklists. A guidance approach creates trainers, facilitators, educators, templates, guidelines, and flow charts.

The governance approach focuses on creating those gates it can use to control the results of the process. Guidance on the other hand focuses on approaches that educate the user in the right things to do.

At the end of the day, guidance can achieve the same goal as governance; ultimately, user behavior can be controlled. This can be done simply within the power already provided to the IT manager. It need not require a separate document, process, or procedure.

In a governance model you create a combative environment where business users feel that they must crush the barriers preventing them from using IT to solve their needs. They build battle plans around breaking down processes that are too restrictive. They wage war on the guardians of governance.

Guidance, in contrast, creates an atmosphere of learning and exploration. Instead of the business user feeling like they must develop a case for their problem they explore possible solutions to their problem and the impact that may have on their resources, on IT resources, and on the rest of the organization.

Tips for creating a guidance mindset

The simple and most direct answer for most folks is the default governance model. It's what we've seen, what we know, and what most people, both inside and outside of the IT department, expect. Here are some tips for creating a guidance culture:

  1. Work from the position of finding the right solution to the problem. Whatever the problem is, try to find a solution for it. Don't be quick to say that something is not a solution to the problem if you're not willing to help find an alternative.
  2. Create high-level flow charts that help users understand why they would choose one solution over another. Stay focused on not creating an approved or not-approved flow chart. It should end with "a fit" or "not a fit."
  3. Collect and distribute free "training materials." Web site articles, printed articles, brochures, and other sources can help people become more educated and therefore make better decisions. Keep a list of materials that will help people understand whether the solution is a fit or not for their problem.
  4. Get books, courses, consultative help, or training. The key to guidance is knowing how to steer someone to success. There is a limit to what can be done without some training or outside support. When you have reached the limit of what you can do to understand good users and support the users with the technology, call in some help. Whether that is in the form of a book, a class, a consultant, or a training video, the goal is simply to increase the amount of knowledge about a topic to improve your ability to steer your customers in the right direction.
  5. Attenuate your attitude positively. No matter how much time you invest in the right approach, if your attitude is not one of support and assistance, all will be lost. Be positive and supportive. Remember that their problem is your problem.

Real life is never as simple or straightforward examples given in an article. You have to adapt the guidance you can give to meet the resources that you have. You will never solve every problem nor make every business user happy. However, you can focus your efforts on creating the right kind of environment for your business users and your staff and avoid the combative, hostile relationship that some IT organizations have with the rest of the company.

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