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
  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

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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