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Sharing Is Hard

"Governance" in the context of shared services is about shared leadership; it's about shared decision-making. And sharing is hard to do. If decisions are power, then shared decisions necessarily mean shared power, which gets very complex in situations of consolidation and consortia. Failed efforts to share services across large organizations reveal issues ranging from obstructive policy to interpersonal conflict. The failures are well-understood -- we know what's not working. The question is, what will help? Because we do want the efficiencies that come with shared services. We do need to share information and streamline our processes.

Governance is informed, accountable, audit-worthy decision-making. Let's break that down.

Informed means that we must have all the information needed to make a good decision, and that information has to be accurate. It must include dissenting views, if applicable, and it must be validated as complete and accurate in whatever ways are possible. The more important the decision, the more careful we must be with formalizing the process of being "informed".

Accountable means that there are designated decision-makers. They were designated through election, appointment, hiring, through some formal process. And they must be accountable to the process of shared decision-making. They must become informed and familiar with the complete and accurate information provided to them. They must show up as needed for discussion and debate. They must be willing to put their name on the dotted line when it comes time to make the decisions. We often find that designated decision-makers do not want to formally commit themselves to decisions for which they do not feel they are fully informed, and rightfully so. If you do not believe you have been provided enough information, or enough quality information, with which to make an informed decision, why would you want to sign your name to a questionable outcome?

Audit-worthy refers to the quality of documentation maintained throughout the decision-making process. Keeping good records of what decisions were "subject to governance", who were the designated decision-makers, what information was provided, requested, debated, what was decided, who participated and who did not participate, and what follow up was indicated all are critical elements of an audit-trail that is crucial in the public sector, and frequently in publicly-traded private companies as well.

We suggest that the only way to make shared services work is to formalize the shared-decision-making process. Make is structured, make it transparent, make it rational. We have struggled under the burdensome weight of too much red tape, and we have suffered the chaos of too little process and accountability. But when the stakes are high, we have to have a formal process. We must be able to demonstrate, years later, what was decided, based on what information, who dissented, what information they provided, who participated, who failed to participate, and how we followed up. The big decisions, just the big ones.

Managed Governance, led by Barbara Nadalini Priesnitz, leverages experienced professionals from various industries and domains to assess, plan and operationalize Governance strategy. Shared services typically include many forms of consolidation and collaboration, and always require shared decision-making frameworks. Managed Governance works to ameliorate the most common challenges:

  • lack of a common vocabulary and taxonomy

  • lack of clear, shared goals and metrics

  • lack of training

  • lack of automated, transparent communication tools that show who has participated, who commented, who proposed alternatives, who voted, and most importantly, who showed up. The single most common element of failed shared governance is apathy.

Overly abstract, formal or burdensome governance frameworks are not successful; because of this, we focus on simple, automated policies, procedures and technologies that enable informed, accountable, audit-worthy shared decision-making.

Barbara Nadalini Priesnitz

Barbara Nadalini Priesnitz is the principal consultant at Managed Governance LLC. 

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