Governance Is Not Management

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What is governance?

I think to a lot of people it is a kind of nebulous thing that sits out there and hits their hands when they are about to do something wrong.  For others, it is a strictly controlled and regimented structure in which everything needs to exist.  But what is governance?  Why do we need it?  And, more importantly, are we doing it correctly?

For a definition of governance let’s turn to the Canadian Institute on Governance:

Governance determines who has power, who makes decisions, how other players make their voices heard and how account is rendered.

Governance is about guiding the organization towards achieving strategic goals, keeping the organization “safe”.  Management is about how to operationalize that guidance within the organization.  Yeah, that’s a pretty fine line, isn’t it.  There are also multiple levels of governance.  For instance, for the GoA there are government-wide goals.  Ministries have specific goals that tie into the government-wide goals providing more ministry-specific goals.

Governance sets policies and direction.  Management implements those policies and direction.  Forrester separates these two into the following:

Governance Management
  • Vision
  • Policies
  • Decision Rights
  • Monitoring
  • Strategy
  • Planning
  • Implementation
  • Operation
  • Reporting

Within the GoA if we want to give something more credence we call it a Governance Strategy.  Notice the problem.  Strategy is in the Management column, not the Governance column.  By blending the two, making governance and management synonymous, we are doing ourselves a disservice.  We are conflating disparate ideas and proceeding as if they are the same.  In the process, we lose a little bit of both.  Sometimes a lot.  We may not cover everything that is supposed to be covered in Governance and we miss out on things that we should be Managing.

Governance is not management and should not be confused with management.

Governance says the Senior Finance Officer must approve all expenditures in excess of $xxx.  Management says that there is going to be a meeting once a week to discuss all expenditures over $xxx with the Senior Financial Officer. Governance says that projects should be monitored to ensure that they are following accepted practices.  Management implements a reporting structure to accommodate that.

Governance describes what needs to be done (vision and policies) while management describes how it’s going to be done (implementation, operations, and reporting) within the parameters set by governance.  By mixing the two we lose the value of both.

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