3 Tips to implement governance, not bureaucracy

Governance doesn’t need to be bureaucracy

When people talk about ‘Governance’ for delivering products, you might wish to roll your eyes and think of bureaucracy. In fact, many entrepreneurs and innovators left the big corporate world to get away from the slow decision making, and all the administration that seemed to make building the business like wading through treacle.

Often the personalities of entrepreneurs shaping products are just such – big picture, initiators, breaking the ‘rules’ and get things done. As your business grows, the lack of governance can also be the business downfall. Customer requests get lost, team members stop being away of what they need, and the leaders get bogged down in fire fighting rather than relationships and sales.

Governance doesn’t have to be a big thing. In fact, it might be the smooth springboard that releases the leader to do the things they enjoy. However the culture must be right.

For one company I worked for, the attitude of the ‘back office’ was to remove the roadblocks and effort so fee-earners and sales team could spend more time with their customers. With that mindset you prevent the back office becoming the beast where everyone needs to feed it information and get nothing back. Yet another similar sized business, implemented a new finance system where phase one was all about getting data to the centre, with no support to fee-earners. This resulted in duplication of work, because the fee-earners each had to build a parallel spreadsheet system to give them the data to manage the business. Suddenly forms, data and policies took precious time from clients. The issue wasn’t the size of the business; just how it implemented reporting and governance.

3 Tips for successful governance:

Decide your key decision points – and get the right people to those.

Where I have seen successful scale ups, the CEO surrounds themselves with great advisors, to provide push back and accountability. They are supported in setting the direction and delegating downwards for people to make decisions aligned to the business direction.

As a scale up, the first painful point is to realise the leadership team shouldn’t and can’t make all the decisions anymore.

Decide the minimal metrics to monitor where you are

Google uses quarterly ‘Objectives and Key Results’ (OKRs). This sets a key objective for each team, and the results they need to achieve. Behind this you know what you need to measure, but each team can decide the key measure they are monitoring. This prevents the business drowning in metrics AND teams deciding which (positive) metric they want to follow.

When I was working with Microsoft on operational marketing, we had 8 key marketing metrics, and each period the key conversations were about variance to plans and then putting in place ‘go green’ plans. If a metric wasn’t green, what would you do next quarter to make it happen.

So for your business think about marketing, sales, development, sales, product, financial performance, customer, people and business maturity and what might be the one or two metrics you want to track with that. (A balanced scorecard is a good way of bringing this together)

Create a simple cadence of the minimum meetings to run the business

What stifles businesses is where there are too many meetings, people don’t know their roles, and you end up having to repeat meetings or create similar documents to feed each meeting.

To do this, think of each month, and what are the key top level meetings – e.g the management meeting, then how that feeds to any ‘departments’, product, tech, sales etc, down to sprint and daily meetings. How do those then feedback up again to the management meeting. In that way, each meeting is fed the information it needs to make decisions, know the variances to plan, and can make the asks or decisions upwards and downwards. The following meeting draws from the last, rather than duplicating or being out of cadence.

The last part of the cadence is to ensure you set your diary to have time to prepare and follow up from the meeting. Most people and organisations don’t plan this prep and follow up time, such that the meetings are unproductive, and the staff are chasing their tails to give inadequate and insufficiently prepared information to the meeting. This often results in follow ups and bureaucracy

Making this happen

One of the key elements of making this happen is to know the personality types of your leadership team. Often, we see leaders who have a sales focus (relationships), big picture, and like to initiate. They might not like to create, nor follow processes. So, to make this happen you might need to have the ‘chief operating offer’ role, or a back-office lead. They then make sure governance runs smoothly, and chases actions so that the leadership can make decisions in their meetings.

The second critical success factor is to kill existing meetings! Too often I see companies accepting the idea, and then ADDING it to the existing, overwhelming diary. The team stop having time for customers. So, look to remove meetings, and slim down attendance to minimise the time in meetings.

One step of the way is to have a simple overview of the business and our Quick Business Checkpoint tool, that puts a simple overview of the business on one page with the initiatives, measures and current maturity in one place. It gives the leadership (and product leaders) a snapshot to know where the gaps and focus might be and what the dependencies are around the business with products.

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