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Tips to gaining executive support for IT Governance initiatives

December 17, 2014

The hardest question I get as an IT governance advisor is, “how do I get executive level support for our IT governance program?”  Surprisingly, this question, which comes from operations as well as executives, is not an isolated issue.  As you might expect, the answer usually starts with “it depends.”  As in, “It depends on what?”  Adopting good governance practices does not occur in a vacuum. There are different conditions and circumstances in the internal and external environment that include a range of factors such as culture, mission, vision, management style, business plans, and the like.

All too often, I see a common communication error in organizations that are trying to adopt or improve their IT governance practices.  When I talk to the senior leadership they insist that they are supporting and driving good governance practices and they don’t understand why the initiatives are not getting support from the ground.  When I talk to the operations teams, they insist that they are feverishly trying to adopt some holistic governance approaches but aren’t getting the upper level support they need.  See the gap?

With that perspective, let’s get back to the original question – how do you get executive level support for your governance initiatives?  Here’s my advice:

Know where your company is going.

Know the vision, mission and strategy of your organization.  You would think that after years of hearing about this, we would finally understand how important this is.  Many I’ve talked to have some real challenges finding this information. My advice:  if you’re lost, go to the annual report to find this, specifically the goals and high level strategy.

Understand what IT governance really means.

Employees must share a common understanding of what IT governance is and what the benefits are by focusing more on the WHY as opposed to the HOW.  Knowing the why helps create a picture of the future that is easy to communicate and appeals to all of the various stakeholders. Also, the why will be the foundation for a clear business case that focuses on the business drivers with clear and measurable goals/objectives for your IT governance effort that identifies gaps between the as is and to be.

Understand who your stakeholders are.

Know your audience by researching their perceptions, concerns and challenges as well as their existing levels of commitment or resistance to the concept of IT governance.  Address their concerns by identifying any benefits each stakeholder may need from the initiative and estimate a value for each benefit.

Create a powerful message and develop a marketing plan

Your messages should be planned, comprehensive and concise.  Deliver your message using multiple platforms to ensure it is heard, and then be prepared to deliver the message multiple times to multiple stakeholders.  Remember to modify the message based on the specific stakeholder by thinking, “What’s in it for them?”  However, your marketing program should have a primary focus towards executives as the audience. This is because their focus is typically on financial and business issues that result in allowing the organization to do more with less, provide benefits realization, optimizing risks and resources.

Know the applicable Industry frameworks. 

If you are suffering from framework exhaustion, you’re not alone.  Many organizations are adopting portions of multiple “silver bullet” frameworks and not realizing their real value.  Leveraging multiple frameworks is a must, but have to be adopted correctly.  My top pick is COBIT since it is the only framework that I’m aware of that separates governance from management, provides a holistic approach, and references multiple standards and frameworks commonly used today.

Find the right time. 

Let’s be realistic, most of us don’t have the luxury of having senior management, or the board for that matter, available to hear what we have to say when we need to say it.  Therefore, look for that small window of time at either a pain point or trigger event that can get you the face time you need to deliver your message.  Don’t forget that the longer you wait after one of these events, the less powerful your message will be.

Final thoughts.

It’s difficult to really get support if you are in an organization that supports an “open door, closed-minded” culture – support cannot be passive, but must be active.  Leaders cannot just say they support the effort, and it will be your responsibility to help them understand their roles and expectations.  As I mentioned before, the most informative and complete body of knowledge that I know of is the COBIT5 product family.  COBIT is the only end to end framework that focuses on the Governance of Enterprise IT, so it seems to be the best starting point for any IT governance initiative.