In the digital culture we speak of collaboration, communication, risk taking, and so on. How do we ensure good decisions are being made when we are encouraging our organization to be agile when dealing with customers and partners? Where does organizational governance fit in our digital enterprise and how do we make sure these “gatekeepers” facilitate the agility a digital enterprise requires?
Webster defines a gatekeeper as “a person who controls access.” 1 while dictionary.com says, “a person in charge of a gate, usually to identify, count, supervise, etc., the traffic or flow through it.” 2 From a business perspective, one could say a gatekeeper is a “junior officer (such as a secretary) who has the authority or ability to control access to a decision-maker or to certain information.” 3 Colloquially, however the gatekeeper has taken on the role of “a member of a decision-making unit or social group who acts to prevent or discourage contact by controlling the flow of information and/or access, as would a secretary who does not put calls through to the decision-maker.” 4
So, how did idea of “gatekeeper” transform itself from being a controller of access, which is a good thing, to a preventer or discourager of access, which has a negative connotation? It is no wonder we demonize the term “gatekeeper” and that governance would naturally deny they are “gatekeepers” when in fact they are. In a non-collaborative culture, a “gatekeeper” is viewed as an inhibitor to progress – carrying the perception of being watched which may lead to a fear of failure and then ultimately extreme risk aversion. This is the death of innovation. Why attempt anything if it’s only going to be blocked anyway? To quote Office Space, “That’s my only real motivation – not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.” 5
A digital culture is a collaborative one. In a collaborative culture, a “gatekeeper” is part of really good governance. So, let’s shed the negative stigma of the gatekeeper, change the conversation and change the culture.
From a literal perspective, we know who the gatekeepers are; many are performing necessary and productive roles in governance. According to the ITIL Service Strategy and other models, governance performs three primary functions:
- Evaluating – This refers to the ongoing evaluation of the organization’s performance and its environment. This evaluation will include an intimate knowledge of the industry, its trends, regulatory environment and the markets the organization serves.
- Directing – This activity relates to communicating the strategy, policies and plans to, and through, management. It also ensures that management is given the appropriate guidelines to be able to comply with governance.
- Monitoring – The governors of the organization are able to determine whether governance is being fulfilled effectively, and whether there are any exceptions. This enables them to take action to rectify the situation, and also provides input to further evaluate the effectiveness of current governance measures.
Clearly, good governance is part of any well-run organization because it promotes continuity, consistency, and integrity. We must guard against turning governance into “bad” gatekeeping by running it as inhibitors and preventers. That is a two-way communication: first governors must prove they are not “bad” gatekeepers by doing their jobs of evaluating, directing and monitoring with consistency and integrity. Second, once management and staff see the consistency of decision-making they must view this “gatekeeper” as good for the continuity, and ultimately the resiliency, of the organization. The management and staff will begin to take risks and work hard enough to innovate without fear of failure or being blocked from success. The culture will move from merely seeking terminal value, which are desired goals or outcomes, to also seeking the instrumental value of desired modes behavior. This is the essence of the digital collaborative culture: a culture that is not afraid to take risks, is critical thinking and agile, and realizes that failure is an organizational learning experience.
As a leader, I would instill this instrumental value by telling my team, “If I am doing your job, then I’m not doing mine.” Metaphorically, I was letting them know they had the authority and freedom to get the job done within the scope given. I would then segue to my “Three D’s of Leadership:” Decide, Delegate, and Disappear.
Let’s start with the last one: disappear. Of course this should not be taken literally. A leader should be around to make decisions and delegate work; but should not be in the way of the staff getting the job done. The leader provides the tools, sets the direction, assigns the work, and where necessary, removes roadblocks to success. The leaders should not get in the way of their staff finding and owning their own successes. The staff must be able to own the fruits of their labor and get the psychological and intrinsic rewards of accomplishment. However, “disappear” does not absolve the leader from monitoring progress and making course corrections if necessary.
The leader must also make decisions. This would seem the easiest, but too often leaders decide by “ambivalence” and let decisions make themselves because time ran out on all the options save the only one left available. Day-to-day decisions may be made in the “disappear” mode by letting the staff decide certain courses of action within their span of control. However, the leader must make decisions in times of uncertainty, where there is limited information, or where there are many variables. In other words, the value of the leader is in making decisions in times of chaos.
The leader cannot do all of the work. (Remember, “If I’m doing your job, I’m not doing mine.”) The leader must delegate and in turn the staff must know their roles and responsibilities. The leader puts the staff in a position to be successful. To use a baseball analogy, a baseball manager examines the match ups and fills out the line-up card with who he thinks has the best chance of winning that day. The pitcher pitches; the batters hit; well you get the idea. Each team member knows their role throughout the course of the game. In some cases, a good base-stealer is given the freedom to steal a base at will unless the manager tells him not too, rather than wait for the signal to try.
In a digital culture, governance is still necessary but the gatekeepers are “good.” So, “gatekeepers” as enablers? With a well-executed governance model in the digital enterprise, they certainly can be.
1 “Dictionary and Thesaurus | Merriam-Webster.” Dictionary and Thesaurus | Merriam-Webster. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 May 2016. http://www.m-w.com/
2 “Dictionary.com – The World’s Favorite Online English Dictionary!” Dictionary.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 May 2016. http://www.dictionary.com/
3 “More Articles.” BusinessDictionary.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 May 2016. http://www.BusinessDictionary.com/
4 “Home | AllBusiness.com.” AllBusinesscom. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 May 2016. http://www.AllBusiness.com/
5 IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 12 May 2016. http://www.imdb.com/character/ch0001872/quotes
About the Author:
Chief Scientist & Institute Fellow
Dr. Frank Granito is Chief Scientist and Lead Fellow at the Institute for Digital Transformation. He has over 40 years of experience in the Information Technology field and has successfully implemented IT Service Management transformation solutions for Government and Commercial clients. Dr. Granito holds a Doctor of Management from the University of Maryland University College with a thesis on Organizational Culture.
As Lead Fellow, Frank selects current transformational topics and leads the monthly discussions with all of the Institute Fellows, parts of which are available on our YouTube Show “Digital Transformation Unplugged“. In his role as Chief Scientist, Dr. Granito created the analytical model that is the basis of the Digital Enterprise Readiness Framework. He designs, creates and produces the analysis of our Rapid Research. He is also the principal author the book Digital Transformation Demystified.
In his spare time, Frank is also a Professional Chef and you can follow his culinary exploits on Instagram @pasticciogranito.