CIO Upfront: 'Some things are too important to be left to chance'

CIO Upfront: 'Some things are too important to be left to chance'

We need more clarity and much more specificity around how we select governance board members, writes Steve Griffin of Theia Training

“The Ministry did not establish the quality of governance required for a complex project of this nature.”

Novopay Ministerial Report

An organisation’s governance system is a set of interacting units or elements that form an integrated whole intended to process information for effective decision-making.

Effective decision-making is defined here as the process through which alternatives are selected and then managed through implementation to achieve business objectives. For better-informed decision-making, an organisation's decision-makers need timely access to information on which they can rely. So, good communication is vital, and understanding is critical.

“There seemed to have been an unhealthy willingness to establish bureaucratic bodies to govern the Project, and to have meetings, but at the expense of people turning their minds independently and in a disciplined way to the responsibilities each of them had.”

Queensland Health Ministerial Report

It’s always good to put your cards on the table at the onset of an article. So here goes - I do not believe that a critical function such as programme/project governance should be left to chance. Well, I hear you say, there is nothing revolutionary in that statement. However, no matter how obvious that would appear to be, experience indicates that project board members are primarily recruited due to their organisational position, the fact that they are often key stakeholders in the outcome of the project and their overall generic management capability. Seldom do we pick them for their specific governance skill sets and experience and match it to the project to be governed or engage them for their particular subject matter expertise.

To that end, we need more clarity and much more specificity around how we select governance board members, how we identify their capabilities, and how we form a view on their potential contribution to the governance process.

At Theia, we have developed a qualitative and quantitative method for assessing the efficacy of the Steering Group. We look at three specific areas:

  • Steering Group (Member) Attributes,

  • Steering Group Processes, and

  • Steering Group Outcomes.

Although the full force of a Theia Assessment may not always be necessary, it is beholden on those responsible for the composition of governing bodies to put some rigour into the selection process. An excellent place to start is to focus on the individual attributes of potential or existing Steering Group members.

Steering Group (Member) Attributes

When determining what an individual brings to the table, I like to view them through four separate lenses:

Lens one: Professional experience dimension (PED): 

PED is a measure of the knowledge, depth of expertise and degree of experience in management and on governance boards that the members bring with them to their service role on the project board. Understanding the roles they have had, the education level they have attained and their general business and financial acumen is a good starting point. PED is only an indicator as to efficacy; however, I believe it is an essential facet of the overall picture.

Lens two: Project experience dimension (PrED): 

In the Theia assessment process, we define specific project knowledge and project experience as PrED, which can be represented by a score calculated by standardising and then weighting specific attributes. However, as a general rule, the ‘project-related’ skills, competencies and experience of members can be represented by years of direct project experience (e.g. programme/project management), the number of steering groups served, and cumulative years of project and steering group experience. Like PED, PrED by itself only serves as an indicator.

Lens three: Subject matter expertise (SME)

Every project is unique so the mix of skills and subject matter expertise required for effective governance will vary from instance to instance. However, when subject matter expertise is required it is essential to ensure that the right level of experience is represented. Heads of departments are not necessarily SMEs in their field. An interview can determine the level of expertise a candidate brings to the proceedings.

Lens four: Cultural intelligence or cultural quotient (CI or CQ):

CI/CQ is a measure of the individual member’s ability to ‘make sense of unfamiliar contexts and then blend in’. At Theia, we view CI/CQ as an indicator of the governance board member's ability to conform with and be successful in, the social norms indicative of each Steering Group, as well as an indicator of the member’s ability to communicate in a new environment. CI/CQ consists of a broad set of skills instrumental for active project board membership, specifically:

  • Ability to build relationships: Whether they enjoy talking and engaging with people from other parts of the organisation.

  • Ability to adapt: Whether they can change their behaviour according to the demands of a new ‘organisation’ such as a project board.

  • Ability to tolerate ambiguity: Whether they can tolerate ambiguities, uncertainties, and unanticipated changes in the course of Steering Group business.

  • Ability to empathise: Whether they can put themselves in another person's position and imagine the situation from their perspective.

You can ascertain the extent of a candidate’s CI/CQ through a mix of interviews and publicly available CQ questionnaires.

The combined results of each of the assessments should give you a good indication as to the candidate’s potential. The next step is to establish a psychologically safe environment in which the focus can be on productive discussion.

Steve Griffin is the founder and principal of Theia Training Ltd, a training consultancy which specialises in portfolio, programme and project governance.

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Tags strategygovernancemanagementtrainingupskillingSteve GriffinCIO and the boardcontinuous learningleadershipTheia Training

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