Tag: Decision-making

Just Governance

Measurement, Meetings, Organisations, Teams No Comments

My colleague David Dowe and I were chatting recently.  We got onto thinking about what it takes for an enterprise to be ‘governed’ well and to avoid governing systems going wrong (or at least not work well enough).


There is a wide variety of ways organisations are established and led from owner run SMEs to the largest offices of State. ‘Governance’ is more likely to be explicitly discussed and not just assumed where there are formal structures such as Company Boards with non-executives, Charities with Trustees or campaign Steering Committees.


For many years now, there has been a bit of a fashion for ‘Good Governance’.  What does that mean – and how can it be assured?


In answering this question, we have drawn on our experience of working in all sorts of environments over the last couple of years: from technology accelerators to school systems; professional associations to conservation charities; improvement projects to academic institutions.


So, this is our governance ‘top ten’:

1)   The FRE framework for organisational success brings three fundamental roles for governing groups to mind.  The first part of FRE is thinking of Focus: is the purpose of the organisation shared? Is the strategy clear – is it understood? Has the governing group set out its intentions (and limitations) for the wider staff to work toward and within? Second in the FRE framework is taking Responsibility: do governing boards avoid overstepping the mark and resist micro-managing the executive? The third part of FRE is the Example of senior leaders, including board members or trustees, in setting the cultural tone for an enterprise.  This is a crucial, and often neglected, role of those involved in the governance of an organisation.  The remainder of this checklist probes further into this territory of direction, scope and culture.


2)   Governing groups are often expected to be many things: a sounding board giving advice; maybe providing a sort of litmus test before an idea is rolled out; and frequently a decision-making body too.  It is a heady mix trying to be a critical friend to the executives and part of checks and balances in securing the best decisions and way forward.  It is necessary to be clear on the scope of the governing roles – and to be sure that the governing group has the skills, and more important, the attention and awareness to do the job.  Is the group clear what its primary purposes are? Does it spend time giving an overall direction with an overall strategy?  Does it recruit and support a good CEO and then give them a clear sense of their autonomy and limitations, including how their performance will be reviewed?   How far is the governing group involved in assuring itself that overall goals are being achieved, the finances are secure and the best possible organisational culture is established?


3)   There are many cautionary tales of governing groups failing to take an interest, or get an accurate impression of, organisation culture (for example).  Many boards govern through dashboards and metrics – but organisation leaders can game the measures and Boards find them hard to discern.


4)   The mechanics of governing group meetings can be inefficient with an astonishing amount of managerial time spent preparing for board meetings, reporting, following up issues.  There can be a degree of gaming and a seeming disconnect from the actual business sometimes.


5)   Finding ways to keep in touch with both team delivery and organisation performance without overstepping the line into micro-management is a key balance and challenge for governing groups.  Boards tend to deal in papers and presentations.  It is very hard to really understand what staff are feeling and know whether the CEO is doing a great job or not. Their information often comes from others inside and outside of the organisation which introduces a time lag.  Finding ways for the Board to get early warnings of unrest, confusion and non-attainment are important. Useful indicators can be the experience of interacting with staff who are only occasionally and unexpectedly encountered further into the organisation, spending time out and about and being alert to ‘weak signals’ (e.g. through complaints).


6)   In doing its difficult work, is the governing group willing to have Critical conversations not just around issues of strategy and organisation process but also culture?  For true consensus to emerge important issues need to be named and given sufficient air time on frequently packed agendas.  In shaping the agenda and discussion it is important to recall previous discussions and reports – not just taking ‘matters arising’.  Finding ways to remember previous promises made by the executive and have time to explore and question that productively and collaboratively.


7)   Given these challenges, there are often choices about how to arrange (or, frequently, rearrange) governing systems.  In our experience, there tends to be an over focus on the structural options at the expense of the behavioural.  For example, a committee structure is more likely to be reviewed than the sort of decision making and scrutiny discussions to achieve a real improvement.  There is a sort of ‘Inverse Attention Law’: where the changes that are most needed are less likely to be considered. Using a biological metaphor, sometimes the ‘Anatomy’ (that is, the structure of a board or its sub groups) needs changing, but more often it is the ‘Physiology’ of how the existing parts work together that is crucial.  Getting the governing groups ways of working right is often more necessary than the overall wiring.


8)   The role of the Chair is crucial. There are many high-powered Boards where strong personalities are quite deliberately given a platform to speak as separate voices.  It is possible for the management team to take away different opinions on direction or performance. It is easy for chairs to either let all the voices speak (wishing to be seen as inclusive) or become too dictatorial.   Pulling together a wider ranging debate into a clear corporate line can be difficult to achieve.  This summing up is sometimes avoided to allow personal agendas to be pursued through the ‘smoke and mirrors’ after a meeting.  Chairs are often chosen for their sector knowledge.  However, the key role is to manage a good discussion and lead the development of a strong team (where you can disagree well en route to agreeing a collective line that all are publicly committed to, and where the group holds each other to using the best possible behaviours).


9)   It is possible to invest too much power in the board, council or steering committee.  Sometimes board members are very high powered and sit on lots of governing groups, possibly collecting too many appointments and not having sufficient time to give to their role.  So it can be useful to find other ways to improve the advisory architecture so that checks and balances are in place.  Setting up working groups and advisory groups can be used to show organisations are engaging more widely – but they can run into the many dozen, leading to a lack of consensus or good ideas get lost.


10)   Given all this, what is a useful way forward?  Well quite simply, take time to review how you are doing.  Be prepared to question the “Inverse Attention Law”: the structure might need rejigging and processes rewiring.  However, it is likely that securing the best behaviours will be a key task: achieving the physiology rather than the anatomy.  Do you meet well?  Do you have good conversations?  It might seem a bit prosaic, but reviewing how your meetings go can be a good place to start, using something like this assessment – which can be presented in a variety of ways including as a wheel, and can be tracked over time.  It is a simple first step: governing made easy.


So “Just Governance”?  It is not necessarily simple and straightforward.  And yet it needs to be thought through and fair.  It can then provide amazing value added oversight with a light touch.  Helping the right things to happen, and helping avoid things going wrong.



Tags: , , ,

What DEE-cisions?

Do, Improvement, Meetings, Organisations, Reflect, Teams No Comments

Imagine the scene. A producer pitching the idea for a film: in Africa, people are living insecure and impoverished lives; thousands of people decide to start an exodus to Europe; they walk and walk and walk, and they talk to the media covering their movement – “we are poor because you are rich”; those in the North are fearful of the mass migration from the South.

The surprise about this film? Well, firstly it is has already been made. By the BBC. A long time ago. In the 1980s a pitch something like the one imagined above actually happened. ‘The March’ was made with leading figures in front and behind the lens. It was broadcast over 25 years ago.

Even so, the surprise is not that it was so prophetic – the story remains prescient.

Rather, it is striking that the film is almost totally forgotten. It has never been repeated. You can’t buy it online – even through the BBC bookshop. It has just about disappeared, other than a couple of YouTube clips, for example.


This film was an insight – into insecure lives and the challenge of economic development.  Today, in our work (and lives) we are offered insights all the time. Sometimes our colleagues or bosses or contacts expect us to act.

We have four options in any situation:

First, we can IGNORE the information and time to decide.

Or, we might DO something. Possibly instinctively.

These are the two main responses. Both can be due to cognitive biases. The complexity or anxiery might just be too much for our busy life – so we ignore it. Or we are a bit discombobulated and just want to do something – so we rush to action.  Either way, we may (over) rely on our intuition.

Or possibly we want to take our time. Our third option is EXPERIMENTATION. We might want to give something a go. We might wish to try something out.

The fourth and final possible choice is EXPLORATION – wanting to find out more, or reflect.

When viewers saw ‘The March’, my hunch is most ignored the implications. Maybe it seemed too fanciful. Or worrying. Some probably signed up to the campaigns for third world debt relief that were popular at the time. Others maybe chose to give supporting a particular charity a go. Some others might have decided to read more about the issues and think about how best to respond.

In our organisations we can manage our DEE-cisions by:

1) being totally clear of the criteria for ignoring a topic or possible choice. Maybe it is the responsibility of another group. However, ignoring should be used sparingly.  Often issues that are important are not on the radar. Methods like ‘scenario planning’ help shift some issues from being tuned out to ones that have further effort put into them – i.e. making the shift from ignoring to exploration or maybe even experimentation.

2) Deciding and acting is important for progress. Even here, ‘do and review’ is both poetry and philosophy. When will you take time to see if your ‘no-brainer’ decision had indeed worked?

3) Setting up some trials is at the heart of experimentation. What ‘improvement cycles’ or ‘prototypes’ can you try? The 90 day cycle is really valuable – what will you take stock of in a Quarter? Or 30 days? Or even after a week? This tweet remains a very popular tool for managing this spirit of trial (and error) and taking stock.  Experimentation builds momentum.

4) I do believe in the ‘art of procrastination’ in decision making – and this is where exploration can really come in.  The ‘art’ thing is the difference between ‘ignoring’ and ‘exploring’ – the difference between unecessary or unproductive delays and choosing deep, insightful thought. Keeping an eye on a topic or deciding to come back to an issue before making a decision can very helpful – or it can be avoidance. A symptom of a troubled group is continually revisiting and changing prior judgments – very sloppy governance indeed. But if it is well managed (sparingly, with strict deadlines and some effort) then exploration is helpful time to ponder and consider – and helps limber up our thinking for a future experiment or action.

So why not try triaging your next set of decisions in the group you work with. What can you ignore? But most importantly, what would DEE have you decide? What should you DO? What could you EXPERIMENT with? What might you EXPLORE a bit more?

Tags: ,

From conservation to conversation

Measurement No Comments

On conservation…

A recent story in the Cambridge papers got us interested. An ancient college was keen to put solar panels on its roof. Seems a good idea? A nice example of leadership by one of the most privileged institutions in the UK? English Heritage said no…in the name of ‘conservation’. The College replied they were focused on conservation –but of a form well beyond preserving local vistas. So we have a battle between fossilised buildings vs fossil fuels – involving two organisations who are keen to be modern, relevant and non-archaic.

In our work linked to CSR, we note there are different tools for different purposes. Which you favour relate to personal priorities which are frequently framed in opposition in this field: buildings or bio-diversity, people or the planet…

How we talk about the purposes that seem important to us is at the heart of our interest in noble purpose organisations. Transvestite potter Grayson Perry has a famous piece of art (embroidery actually) encouraging us all to ‘hold our beliefs lightly’. This might be especially useful in noble purpose environments – especially when conversations about conservation are involved!

[Post script: However, logically we think this postmodern mantra should probably extend to holding the importance of lightly held beliefs lightly too. So maybe, from this philosophical point of view, fundamentalism is ok after all?]

All very circular eh…

Tags: ,

Fashions…in food

Reflect No Comments

The way we serve fancy food (course after course), is a relatively recent invention – see service a la Russe.

However, fashions change and now

1) At dinner parties, putting a file of food on the table to grab is fine

2) And many restaurants go for ‘sharing plates’

What prim and proper stuff is going on around you, that you need to question? Some default thinking?

Tags: ,

Fitzbillies – a metaphor – from Woe to Wow

Plan, Reflect No Comments

The restaurants are full in London (we see that in our travels, and are told so by taxi drivers too).  And even out of London, in January, town is busy.  In 2007 I recall cycling through the same streets, first week of January – deserted.

Blue Monday whether you believe in it or not, is looming.  However, some don’t seem to need many reasons to be cheerful at this time of woe it seems.

In a separate catering story, Cambridge has a much loved cake shop, Fitzbillies, that closed a year ago – it failed financially.  Now after a slight rejig to its offer of drinks and cakes (though not by making it cheaper!!), it is vibey and popular again. 

What does this tell us in these interesting economic times?

In consulting it is clearly the case that not everyone or every company is equally affected by the European recession in the same way.  And some sectors and locations, even in the UK, are booming.

Can you think of some small and/or significant changes to help you make 2012 a ‘wow’ for your business/organisation/career?

How can you change your offer – in subtle ways (eg how you run the cake shop) or significant ways (eg getting into the top end restaurant business in our capital city!)?

Tags: , ,

Free lunch….?

Personal productivity No Comments

Who said there is no such thing as free lunch (well webinar)?

Please do sign on, or pass on, for the free personal productivity online seminar at 2pm GMT on 10th January? See the second section here

And you can register quickly by completing this with your email address or contact phil.hadridge@idenk.com instead.

Tags: ,

Has xmas come early…??

Personal productivity No Comments

The second section of our Festive Briefing offers something you might want….

Please sign up for the complimentary personal productivity webinar at 2pm GMT on the 10th January – or pass it on.

Tags: ,

Curiousness #2 – an example of the need for more..

Think No Comments

The previous post (the one sent on George Smiley and Seth), values curiousness.

In many health care arenas, there is a love of competitions and prizes.  These tend to be for innovation, not adoption and adaption.

My critique of prizes?  They pander to the default health care culture of pursuing the discovery of creative new ideas and then using conferences/papers to show your brilliance.

In contrast, the alternative approach focuses with a deep interest into what you can use from others’ research and practice.

In our 4C model (at end of this link) we sum that for many organisations and individuals, creativity and communication is more the norm, not curiousness to seek out things to copy.

Tags: ,

Making ends meet…2 routes

Personal productivity No Comments


At this time of global, national and household budget angst, here are a few bits of inspiration from music, literature and significant lives…

The Rolling Stones in their song “You can’t always get what you want” note that you might be able to get what you need though.  However, even if we are clear what we need (and how that might be less than we want), what about the supply of resources?

Charles Dickens summed in David Copperfield over 160 years ago: “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds and six, result misery.”

 But what about another way of looking at it? 

In his biography of Churchill, Roy Jenkins makes the point that Winston realised from his late teens that despite his enormously privileged family income he could spend far more than he earnt.  So (as author from the Calvary Barracks in India and as a speaker around the US) he devoted much energy in his life from his early 20s onwards to earning more, rather than worrying about where to spend less!

And John Welsey, the 18th Century preacher, during the hard economic times of the early industrial revolution, exhorted this less hedonistic but similar stance to Churchill: “Earn all you can, give all you can, save all you can”

 So the choices

1)      Focus on needs and not wants to help cut spending to below income

2)      Focus on earning more so you can have what you want…

 In both a balanced budget, or even one in the black, is the aim…

Tags: ,

Events, dear boy…

Personal productivity, Reflect No Comments

Stuff happens…Events occur…Frustration and confusion arise…

How we make sense of what goes on around us and to us is key, for it guides our actions.

When thinking about events there are two tools we find useful. 

The Deep Think.

The aim is to take an event, such as someone not arriving for a meeting, or set of events that has formed a pattern (such as regular delays in starting team meetings), and to try to think of as many possible reasons for the other persons actions. The aim is to generate a long list of possible hypotheses before deciding on action. As well as considering bleak and competitive reasons (they don’t like me, they got a better offer), there is the chance to think of more charitable ones (something has happened at home, their diary isn’t working properly). Only when your brainstorm has run dry do you try to think about which are the most convincing possibilities (if any!) and what your next step might be…your list of options will be much longer.

The formula: E+R=O (where Events + Response = Outcome).

When something happens our response to it is key.  Having been left at the café or bar for an hour with no message we will be responding: 

in our head (am I in the right place, did I put the right time in my diary);

in our heart (what are they thinking of, hope they are ok); 

with our hands (texting, tweeting, fiddling).

The power of this formula is to focus not on R, but O.  Bear in mind the outcome you want (a relaxing evening, a continued relationship with the other person) and use that to guide your response (make the most of time to sit and think, meditate, people watch, plan your next day).

See here for a bit more.

Tags: ,

Phil's Blog

Sign up for Phil’s regular blog.

Email: phil.hadridge@idenk.com