Tag Archives: stakeholders

What are the factors that ensure you achieve good governance in a shared services context?

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When you are developing shared services, a collaboration or a partnership one of the questions that will be asked is what impact or influence will I, or my organisation, have on whatever is created? It is not always said out loud, but it is one of the main concerns of anyone moving into a new way of working – the worry that control will be lost – and it can have a major impact on whether the project is a success or not if it is not dealt with effectively. The way in which a project is governed through the development and in the final implementation phase is a significant factor in this, which is why knowing what good governance looks like is so important.

I will use the word collaboration throughout this post to refer to all types of joint working.

The first part of ensuring good governance is to ensure that there are clear messages from the very beginning of the process about how the collaboration will be managed – including how the final governance format will be decided, who will be involved and then how the transition from the existing structures to the new one will be managed.

But this is getting ahead of the subject of this post – which is about what good governance  looks like – as it is important to define this as early as possible to help to allay the fears that can stop people making positive contributions to the success of the collaboration. I will be sharing the experiences from other projects to help you decide what good governance will look like in the context of the collaboration you are working on.

Definitions of good governance

The Audit Commission, in their report on work being done by Doncaster Council in 2010, say:

Good governance is about running things properly. It is the means by which a public authority shows it is making decisions for the good of the people of the area, in a fair, equitable and open way … Without good governance councils will struggle to improve services when they perform poorly. 

This is equally true of collaborations in other sectors. The Cambridge & North Dumfries Community Foundation report Building Successful Collaborations  (which is a guide to collaboration among non-profit agencies and between non-profit agencies and businesses written by  Carolyn Parkinson in Summer 2006) uses a definition of collaboration which includes the importance of a jointly developed structure (or governance model) as:

a mutually beneficial and well-defined relationship entered into by two or more organizations to achieve common goals. The relationship includes a commitment to mutual relationships and goals; a jointly developed structure and shared responsibility; mutual authority and accountability for success; and sharing of resources and rewards.

Good governance in a collaborative context includes the rules and processes which inform effective collective decision-making. The focus should be on collective decision-making done by groups of individuals or organisations rather than one individual making a decision that affects everyone.

In order to ensure the establishment of a good governance structure a range of factors need to be in place, both in the development and implementation phases, and in the final structure that is  established.

1. Common aims

It is important to clearly identify the common problems, aims and issues. This then allows each of the collaborators to apply the appropriate resources from their respective areas of expertise and discipline.  Problems need to be clearly identified so that as wide a range of possible solutions can be developed using the perspectives of all participating groups. It is also important to be very clear about what is not to be included in the collaboration. The benefit is that the collaborators working together are very likely to create solutions they would not have gained working by themselves by focussing on agreed work strands based on the common aims.

It is important to ensure that the words used in describing these common aims are understood by everyone, as misunderstandings in the language used can have a detrimental effect on the trust each partner feels about the final collaboration and the process they are going through. This is best done by developing and agreeing a glossary for the project at the beginning – which is regularly reviewed and added to as each new phase of the project is developed.

2. Power

The location of power has a major impact on the amount of synergy and transformation that can be achieved. In my experience it is may not be the fact that one partner has more power than the others that causes issues – it is the perception of different levels of power and influence that is just as much of a problem. This can lead to partners competing with each other rather than collaborating.

It is important to recognise that all partners have power within a shared services project – one partner might have the power of money, but all partners have the power to exit the process. Knowledge and experience are as valuable as a financial contribution.

3. Trust

Although trust within a collaboration is important – it is also important to ensure that there are not such high levels of trust that there are no challenges when difficult issues are being dealt with. This can lead to complacency and the setting of easy goals which do not achieve the greatest potential benefits.

Trust requires a number of behaviours by partners which include attention being paid to ethics; transparency; accountability; responsiveness and fairness.

Poor communication is a major factor in reducing trust within collaborations. It is particularly important to establish an agreed glossary as each partner will have their own interpretation for many of the terms that will be used to describe the process and the final governance structure. Misunderstandings in the language used will have a detrimental effect on the trust each partner feels about the final collaboration and the process they are going through.

4. Membership structures

The balance of power is closely linked to the membership structures – there is always a balancing act between these two factors. One small change in either area can have a negative effect on the whole project.

The forms of membership  structures chosen for the governance of the development and implementation phases, and for the final entity follow on directly from how the positions in relation to power are handled. One potential way to help to manage the power relationship is for each partner to have equal voting rights, another is for each partner to contribute equally (or proportionately) to the core staff managing the project. There will be other ways it can be handled – but the key factor is that each partner must feel that they are recognised for their contribution to the collaboration if it is going to be successful.

5. Leadership

Effective leadership is required from the initiation of a collaboration to the establishment of the final entity. It must be visible and active at all levels of involvement with the process. This will ensure that the leader of the collaboration project is not undermined by contributors who are actually hindering a project rather than helping it to develop with the collusion of other managers within their organisations.

There needs to be careful handling of the introduction of the initial concept to those who will be involved, especially by the project sponsor and the members of the project board. The tone that they set from the start will help to manage the concerns of those involved in the collaboration project, whether directly or indirectly, as they will feel threatened and defensive because it will have a significant effect on their future working lives. Good communication is key to this, as it is to other factors which contribute to successful governance.

The leader of the collaboration project will need to have a number of skills ranging from nurturing to being strong and forceful to ensure that outcomes are beneficial to the whole collaboration and the majority of its members are achieved.

 

I hope that this brief summary of the factors that influence whether a collaboration project has good governance or not has been helpful. What have your experiences in the governance elements of a project been? I would also be interested to hear about other definitions of good governance that you have found.

Can the way communication is handled cause problems in a change programme?

The short answer is yes it can, however that would make for a very short post. It is not possible to cover all of the elements of good communication in one blog, so this is a taster on a theme I will come back to in the future.

Image courtesy of jscreationzs at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of jscreationzs at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

One of the main mantra’s for any good change manager or shared service architect is communication, communication, communication. It is the people who are involved in the project or affected by it who can make it work or cause it to fail.

The projects that succeed have managed this part of the change process effectively by making sure that the right people are communicated with, at the right time, with the right information.

 

 

So who are the right people?

Here is a list of people who could be in the communication plan, depending on the project (please comment and add any you feel I have missed):

  1. people who have initiated the project and started it off
  2. main decision makers
  3. project sponsor
  4. project board
  5. project team
  6. management team
  7. staff
  8. unions
  9. customers
  10. stakeholders
  11. suppliers
  12. national bodies responsible for monitoring or validating the area of work being changed  or shared.

The trick, though is knowing what to communicate to each of these groups, when and in what format.

When is the right time?

All too often I hear of projects where all that people get is information about what has happened with long intervals of silence in between each communication. This is a prime breeding ground for rumours to become the main source of information about what is thought to be going to happen which then leads to the very people you want to be engaged and positive about the project being negative and difficult.

It is, therefore, important to have a regular, planned, timed and promoted methods of keeping all of the key groups linked to the project informed. I would suggest that this is at least monthly – but if the project is moving fast this should be increased to weekly or even daily updates. It is then important to keep the promises made about this communication programme even if the only thing to communicate is that there is nothing to communicate – although often this can be helped by saying what has been done as part of the process being  undertaken even if the potential outcomes cannot be shared. This communication should start from as near to the time that the project is initiated as possible.

It is also important to make the communication a two-way process – not just giving out information but showing how people can participate in, and influence, the change that is happening. A good change programme gets the people who are going to be involved in, or effected by, the changes that are happening participating at as many stages as possible. This is especially important at the start of the process as I have often found that  some of the most innovative ideas come from the people who are most closely involved in delivering or receiving the services provided.

This is not to say that the final outcomes of the change programme will be decided by everyone involved. It does mean, though, that when the options are presented to the project sponsor, board and decision makers that they will have the validation of the input from all of the people who have been part of the consultation element of the communication programme.

What is the right information?

It is information that they need to know at the time they need to know it and it should be presented in the places and formats that suit the people the communication is for. My recommendation is that you should give as much information as you can without hindering the confidential elements of the project. This will give the project credibility and can be referred to at the times when there is not very much detail to be shared.  It won’t stop the rumours, but it will help to maintain better relationships with the people involved.

I have listed below a range of methods of sharing the information (again this is not an exhaustive list), and not all methods will be suitable for each project:

  1. letters
  2. consultation documents
  3. newsletters – print or online
  4. internet pages
  5. intranet pages
  6. Twitter
  7. Facebook
  8. blogs
  9. linked-in
  10. staff meeting
  11. public meetings
  12. informal networks
  13. formal networks
  14. displays
  15. open days
  16. stakeholder meetings
  17. meetings with suppliers

Each should have a clear and simple method for anyone receiving the information to respond with a clear protocol for how and when the responses are dealt with. It is especially useful to develop a range of FAQ’s (Frequently Asked Questions) to help with this process and make sure they are easily accessible.

I would be interested to hear your views on communication and what has worked for you.