Agency leaders must create governance environments that enable them to make timely and effective decisions, reduce redundancy, and increase transparency.
In today’s era of diminishing resources, managers within government agencies must become more efficient to fulfill their missions; this includes finding efficiencies in their decision-making process and in the way they issue directions to their agency. Finding more innovative governance structures than those in use today should be a priority for every public organization. In the 21st century, organizations must be nimble and make timely decisions. With information at their fingertips, governance bodies must be able to keep pace.
Governance With a Global View
What is governance? Governance is how organizations give direction to carry out their missions. Often in the public sector, agencies rely on many fractious governance bodies responsible for narrowly focused functions within an agency. These bodies often report to levels below the CEO or chief operating officer. These individual lower bodies are not structured to take a global view of the organization, its overall responsibilities, or the ripple effect from any decisions they make.
Instead, their primary interest rightly focuses on secondary functions, such as compliance with a particular law or regulation (for example, audit committees) or meeting relatively narrow aspects of the agency’s mission (for example, recruiting and staffing). Agencies must create a way to harmonize the work of these lower bodies with the overall requirements of the organization as a whole.
Contrast this with a typical corporate setting, where key committees report to a central board of directors having broad responsibilities across the organization. This interaction with the board of directors in the corporate structure tends to have a leveling effect, one that helps keep the big picture in focus when considering the findings or actions of a lower board.
The strict corporate board model may not be the best for government agencies, which naturally have a different set of regulatory requirements. In a typical government agency, senior leaders have a responsibility to be actively involved with establishing policies, procedures, and technologies that interconnect the various bodies performing its governance functions. The focus of the agency’s leadership should be “the network” connecting the governance bodies, which enables the agency to benefit from the full operating picture of the collective good being done by the individual governance bodies.
Mapping the Landscape, Building Architecture
Many organizations have not mapped out the complete landscape of governance bodies existing within their agencies. As such, they do not have an understanding of what all of the bodies are doing. Without a global view across its governance landscape, an agency cannot develop a single picture of the inter-relationship among governance bodies. This is a key weakness plaguing organizations with bureaucratic and fragmented governance structure. As new boards and committees come into existence, there is no deliberate process for cataloging them into a “governance architecture” for the total organization. Without this documented architecture, agency leaders cannot fully understand the reasons for existing boards and committees, and the inter-relationship between the governance bodies.
When any large organization has many governance bodies, it must consider how to manage the network of boards and committees. Many agencies allow the bodies to exist laissez-faire as a loose confederation. This approach may be seen as providing the bodies with autonomy, which some may consider to be a strength. However, a governance structure is less about accountability or flexibility, and more about how agency leadership can and should manage the interrelationship between the governance bodies; because no body that performs any vital function reaching beyond the immediate membership can exist in a vacuum. Effective management of the network of governance bodies first requires documenting the boards and committees existing within an agency’s governance architecture.
Take Inventory of Governance Bodies
Organizations must first take an inventory of the existing governance bodies. This inventory should be part of a study that reviews governance documentation (such as charters, meeting minutes, attendance rosters, policy, and directive outputs), and interviews members of the bodies as subjects to determine the 5Ws+H (who, what, when, where, why, and how). The 5Ws+H document the relevant data, such as:
- Who are the people or positions comprising the governance body? To whom does the body report?
- What are the outcomes expected from the body (advisory or decision-making)? What is the scope (functional responsibility)?
- When does the body meet (frequency)? Is it a permanent or temporary body? When was the body established?
- Where does the body sit, both geographically and organizationally?
- Why does the body exist? Was it chartered to comply with laws and regulations or because of a leadership decision?
- How does the body communicate with its internal membership and with external stakeholders?
Answers to these questions supply an inventory of all governance bodies (or a partial inventory, such as bodies at the headquarters level only). Once the inventory of bodes is complete, a comparative analysis of the entire governance landscape can begin.
The deliverables from this analysis include tools to help identify potential redundancies among bodies. One useful tool is a “membership matrix” of who attends boards (more on how this is used later by the Defense Intelligence Agency); another tool is a network diagram of existing interdependencies among bodies, which provides a graphic display of what boards and committees interact, communicate, and report to each other. (See Defense Intelligence Agency graphic)
Thorough analysis during this phase will lead to identifying inefficiencies in the existing governance architecture. The study should explore four sets of data during this comparative analysis.
- Identify governance bodies not adding value. Review every governance body’s reason for existence, charter, or composition periodically to ensure it is still performing the mission it was established to do. This type of “questioning the status quo” and zero-based review is vital to ensuring bodies do not continue to linger once they no longer serve a well-defined purpose. In this era of reduced resources, this is a basic economic imperative for all leaders of public organizations.
- Identify governance bodies with overlapping responsibilities and membership. Some boards have overlapping responsibilities with other boards. By performing a comparative analysis of boards and their functions across an organization, agencies will be able to identify where roles, authorities, and memberships of various governance bodies overlap. This is where the “membership matrix” created via the inventory process can be useful in performing analysis.
Using this visual tool, it is easy to identify overlapping memberships of certain governance bodies. Often, the same people are attending numerous meetings that have varying levels of relatedness. It may be possible to collapse and consolidate governance bodies with similar responsibilities and common memberships into a more streamlined governance body that will save time and effort, as well as reduce bureaucracy.
- Use available technology to enhance transparency, communications, and collaboration. The amount of information available to decision makers today is unparalleled in history. Leaders are sometimes overwhelmed with information and struggle to identify the most timely and relevant information from which to make decisions.
Technology has made it possible to digitize and share information before, during, and after meetings. Because of this, meetings are no longer just a forum to share information—most information can be made available in advance of the meetings. In fact, the meetings themselves can be transformed through virtualization.
Likewise, the role of meeting facilitation is no longer to provide new information, but to drive agendas toward the discussion of issues that result in the outcome required from the body. Once a decision is made, it must be quickly captured and disseminated to the appropriate audiences, including other decision-making bodies.
Cross-talk between the separate decision-making bodies is critical for full communication and transparency within the organization and for eliminating redundancy among boards (the efficient sharing of information will help to identify redundancies). In today’s information-driven environment, the fluidity of information requires that communication happen quickly, almost instantaneously. Organizations that want to enhance collaboration among boards will embrace the technology that presents a common communication forum for all governance bodies.
Identify best practices and standardize processes with a common operating language and media. Efficient operation of the network of governance bodies requires at least a basic level of standardization and normalization for the flow of information among the governance bodies across an organization. Requirements include a common language/lexicon, communications means, form, and content. This helps boards ascertain responsibilities and authorities in a common, visible format, and not buried in obtuse language or communication. By comparing governance bodies’ practices, leaders can often identify several approaches for carrying out their responsibilities. This allows the organization to identify best practices and to standardize and harmonize these practices across the organization.
Defense Intelligence Agency Case Study
The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) is the first agency in all-source defense intelligence to prevent strategic surprise and deliver a decision advantage to war fighters, defense planners, and policymakers. The agency accomplishes this outcome by collecting, processing, exploiting, and analyzing foreign military and defense-related information, and then producing and disseminating timely and relevant all-source analyses.
The DIA has evolved in both mission and structure in the 50 years since its inception and has taken on new missions through the years while divesting others. DIA’s workforce deploys globally alongside war fighters and interagency partners to defend America’s national security interests. DIA’s director is a three-star military officer with reporting responsibilities to both the Department of Defense and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
DIA’s mission expanded greatly in 2006, with a decision to merge nine combatant command intelligence organizations into DIA’s financial and administrative oversight. This large merger, with budgetary responsibilities and more than 4,000 civilian and military positions, changed the size and scope of DIA and resulted in more than 50 percent of its workforce shifting outside of the national capital region. Each of the merged organizations was equivalent to a major acquisition of a private-sector company in the commercial world; while each organization had many similarities, each was unique in location and focus.
At first, there was no standardized way to include the combatant command senior intelligence officers in decision making on issues that affected the DIA workforce. However, by using the methodology outlined in this article, we performed an assessment of the post merger integration of the new, larger DIA, which resulted in achieving a more streamlined governance structure.
A key effect was the elimination of five high-level boards and committees with overlapping membership and responsibilities, and the creation of a new governance board to fill gaps in responsibilities that were not previously addressed. The new governance body, the Council of Deputies, has the mission to inform, consult, and when appropriate, decide on issues of importance, such as DIA’s annual budget, policies, and strategic planning.
Using an inclusive approach, the Council of Deputies is responsible for keeping DIA leadership informed in its decision making. For the first time, far-flung organizations that were merged into DIA have a voice in decisions affecting their organizations and workforce, reducing the “us versus them” mentality and focusing on “Excellence in Defense of the Nation,” the DIA motto.
The Council of Deputies was a great step toward efficiency. Its creation eliminated several other meetings, ranging from the formal to the ad hoc, and merged them into a single biweekly forum. The membership of the council is flexible: headquarters staff only when appropriate (issues that only affect the national capital region geography), with the extended combatant command leaders included on issues affecting personnel and budget execution. Membership sometimes expands to include the military service intelligence deputies as affiliated stakeholders when their programs may be affected.
Since its initial session, DIA’s Council of Deputies has engaged significant topics such as programmatic priorities and tradeoffs, personnel system transitions, and hiring plans. The Council of Deputies proved its value while planning for the FY2013 program build. With recommendations in hand from across the enterprise on priority investment areas, the tough discussions took place on tradeoffs: What were we willing to give up to invest in these priority areas? Because of the council’s broad membership, DIA was able to more effectively institutionalize its relationship with the combatant commands intelligence organizations and show increased transparency with the military services.
According to Sharon Houy, DIA’s chief of staff, the Council of Deputies has created a more effective governance environment for DIA. “The key to the success of the council goes beyond the result of the meetings and to the next level of governance—the Military Intelligence Board—and to the DIA director for final decision making. Without the linkages to the next level, the council would be ineffective. A significant benefit of this approach includes increased advocacy by its members for each other’s priorities—critical in this time of fiscal constraint.”
Linkages below the council are also important. As each DIA functional area, such as intelligence analysis or information technology, streamlines its governance bodies, there must be that link to the higher bodies, whether informational or decision making. Houy added, “This is a work in progress; governance structures are living bodies that change, expand, and contract with the needs of the organization.” Without the key decision made by DIA that began with reviewing the relevancy and effectiveness of its governance structure, DIA would never have been able to create the Council of Deputies or realize the increased transparency of decision making.
Streamlining Governance Yields Value
Government leaders need to create governance environments that enable efficient and effective decision making, reduce unaffordable redundancy, and increase transparency. Managers should question the status quo of their existing governance structure. Additionally, they should be sure that governance drives their organizations toward more responsive and transparent operations.
The end result will be to increase overall efficiency and to create a path to better decision making.
Deborah Melancon is a DIA senior management analyst focused on improving processes, mission efficacy, and universal understanding of micro- and macro-level strategy. She holds a master’s degree was in psychology. Contact her at Debmelancon@gmail.com.
Todd Brymer is a management consultant who advises senior government leaders on strategy and performance measurement. He served as a Special Forces officer in the U.S. Army, including three tours as a commander. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.