Governance is a contact sport


In my previous post I mentioned the conference I attended last week on strategic partnering in the police service. One of the afternoon's speakers was Malcolm Burch, the chief executive of Lincolnshire Police Authority. His talk was about the specifics of the governance arrangements in connection with the procurement process they have undertaken but one thing he said has, I think, a general application. He referred to governance being a "contact sport". He was talking metaphorically, of course, and I think he meant contact sports like rugby rather than boxing or martial arts. The overall aim of governance, after all, is for the organisation to win not for one side to knock out the other.

Anyway, Malcolm's point was that it's not possible for governance to be carried out in isolation from the projects and activity of an organisation. Governors (ie those charged with governance of an organisation) have to get involved, they have to have conversations with people and if there are differences of opinion they have to find ways to resolve them. It would be easier for governors to say to the executive, "get on with the project and when you've finished we'll scrutinise what you've done" but that approach is not helpful to the executive and runs the risk of the project failing. There's not much comfort for governors to observe a project has failed when they might have been able to prevent it, or at least mitigated the failure.  It is tantamount to the old joke about an auditor being a person who hides in the hills until the battle is over and then bayonets the wounded. No-one needs governors like that.