At Strategic Steps, we believe that we must practice what we preach.
Last fall, we created our new strategic plan, and part of that included a review of the vision, mission, and values that have been the core of why we do what we do for the past few years. All of this starts at the top, with the vision for what a successful Strategic Steps looks like some years down the road – our raison d’etre. We’ve always promoted the idea of ‘good governance’ because that’s a term that’s in common use in Canada for how governance is done properly. When we reviewed that term, we thought about being a bit more aspirational. If ‘good governance’ is, well, good, then maybe ‘great governance’ is better.
To that end, we’ve updated the company’s vision to ‘Building Great Governance Together’ as a way to inspire ourselves to where we want to be.
The book I wrote, Who’s Driving the Grader, and Other Governance Questions, is written with the premise that there is always room for improvement in governance. That’s no different for Strategic Steps itself. There are some chapters in the book that talk specifically about my take on what the principles of good (great?) governance look like, and more specifically which are the foundational principles and which are more of the ‘nice to have’ ones that move the local government, further along, that continuum towards great governance.
When we turn our focus outwards to how we can create value for clients and how we can walk with them to enact that inspirational idea of ‘great governance’, we get to several questions about the differences between good and great, or even between poor and good.
I think the foundational principles include values or practices like accountability and respect. Without these, good governance is not possible, and great governance can’t happen either. Moving up the ladder a bit, we see principles like clarity of purpose, clarity of role, independence, putting people first, and a few others. At the top of that list, where we see truly great governance blooming are principles like innovation and risk tolerance.
The difference in this hierarchy is that the foundation principles must be present for any form of representational government run by people, for people to work effectively. At the pinnacle, aspirational great governance is transformative. Here council members want to shift their community from a current state to an extraordinary future state. Innovation is often desired by those elected officials with whom we engage; however, prudent risk must be tolerated because not all innovative ideas will bear fruit. That said, true innovation that does take root changes the culture of the organization for the better.
All of this comes back to us as a company. We want the communities we work with to, in Jim Collins’ words, move from ‘good to great’. When we get a chance to be a part of that, we’ve taken a step towards achieving our own vision.
I believe that all elected officials want to do a great job and make their communities better. While there are exceptions to that rule, they are few and far between. Occasionally something goes sideways, and the principles go out the window. That happens when there is a change in culture where it’s acceptable to shirk public service in favour of self-service. If that becomes ingrained as an acceptable culture, the community has a problem.
As always, I’m interested in your thoughts about this topic. Do you see a hierarchy in governance principles? Is there a difference between good governance and great governance? You can find me at firstname.lastname@example.org. The company’s Twitter profile is @strategic_steps.