prop plane coming in for a water landing
If your approach to governance is overly prescriptive, your employees will ignore it. But approach it as a framework and you'll balance business requirements with employee needs PHOTO: Dries Vinke

Martyn Perks recently wrote about how governance gets in the way of the digital workplace. He makes a good argument for changing the default environment, but his solution is an overcorrection. It's the equivalent of burning down the forest because a few trees fell across the road.

Governance, including information governance, must not go away. Governance needs to be a guiding light in the organization, helping people deliver on the mission and preventing the repetition of work.

Organizational vs. Human Requirements

Balancing organizational requirements and what people actually need to do their job has always been a give-and-take proposition. Applying the correct records management policy to a proposal may be critical to the organization but the sales representative would rather prepare a demo for the next client. IT may worry about the security of information but the finance team needs to the ability to share large amounts of information with external auditors.

Producing and sharing information is what defines the digital workplace. The type and format varies but at its core, that is what we do. As a rule, people prefer not to take three steps to perform a task in one tool when they can do it in a single step in a cool new tool they just downloaded.

You know the kind of tool I'm referring to: a tool developed by a new startup that will likely close shop in a year or two. When the company closes, it will likely take all of your data with it. On the flip side, that is preferable to the vendor that your competitors decided to use that got hacked and exposed all their client information to the world.

Streamlining work is important. But so is safety. There is no reason to relinquish core governance principles while still finding new tools to streamline work.

Building a Supportive Governance Program

I like to make pie. I am very particular about the process, rarely sharing pie beyond close friends or family until the pie recipe is “good enough.” To reach the good enough state, I iterate and make changes. Sometimes the changes to the recipe are radical. Other times it's just a minor tweak.

Certain rules must be followed when making a pie. The most important aspect is the crust. Pie crust can make or break a pie. It has to be flaky, hold together and serve as a mild flavor baseline. Based on the type of pie I am making, I pick the appropriate crust and experiment on the filling within that construct.

Governance works the same way. Every system needs to meet certain security, reliability and openness requirements. Systems that are readily hacked or disappear in a year or create new information silos do not help the business in the long term. 

Some level of vetting needs to take place in order to protect the organization against any negative byproducts a short-term increase in productivity may produce.

Work With the People

Part of the problem is that IT or a governance body traditionally has dictated the solutions employees can use. That results in people working around IT and the reflexive rejection Perks suggests.

When looking for a solution, the governance team should start by talking to people. See what they are using. Discover what they like. Drill into what they would like improved. Research their preferred tools and see how they rate against the core organizational requirements. 

If they fall short, tell people why. Be open. Engage with them to find a solution that has the flexibility they need with the safety the business requires.

Remember, most people use the first tool that pops up on Google or the one their former colleague recommended over drinks. There is almost always a better solution. Help them understand what “better” means and make sure they have skin in the game.

A Workplace Without Governance Is Like Pie With No Crust

Like a good pie crust, good governance is not always exciting but serves as a foundation for success. It shouldn’t be a burden or overpowering. When that happens, people ignore it or simply go through the motions.

Observing how people work and collaborating with them on how to improve that process is a key part of governance. Getting people to use systems that are known to governing bodies is a strong step to knowing where all information resides. Governance doesn’t have to pick the systems — it just has to know where they are.

Before you toss governance out the window, make sure you aren't approaching it as a definitive set of rules. View it more as a framework that can work with people and systems to create a stronger organization.