MoP the Boardroom

Don’t forget the senior executives! MoP doesn’t. It emphasises them as key stakeholders. And, don’t forget the middle managers! Yet they are the very people who generally attend the training courses and are more likely to ‘get it’. Whereas the senior executives, who are the key strategic decision makers, often are the ones with their heads in the clouds or heads in the sand.

If you work in a ‘them and us’ culture of ‘executives/managers versus workers’, then this is probably also played out at the highest levels within an organisation with ‘directors versus heads of department’, or even ‘CEO versus directors’. Typical public sector hierarchy can sometimes work against the best interests of the organisation if those in the senior management team feel that their voices are not heard, their hands are tied behind their backs and they are waiting on direction from above.

Any organisation with more than one initiative, investment, project or similar change has a portfolio. These changes don’t happen by themselves, they are managed. Therefore, such organisations are doing portfolio management. However, they may not be doing it well.

How then do we get MoP into the boardroom and get buy-in to this approach at a strategic level to improve the management of the portfolio? We need involvement from the board members whose decisions are required for the successful return on investment from a portfolio of business change initiatives.

Firstly, we could use their language and recognise that they don’t necessarily need all the detail. It is unlikely that they will read the MoP Guide which they may view as the guidance for the delivery practitioners and not for the them. However, there is a TSO publication which is for them, An Executive Guide to Portfolio Management, which is available from several online sites.

In the Executive Guide, portfolio management is described from a strategic perspective, how it works and its role in supporting the prioritisation of investment decisions, illustrated by practical ‘real-life’ examples.

What else can we do? Consider who on the Board might best be placed to take on an active role as portfolio management champion. They may not yet all be convinced but identify one who does understand it and believes it is the right way forward and is prepared to pave the way, even in the face of resistance, to make this work. This champion, supported by other MoP supporters, needs to engage with all the board members individually and collectively, finding a variety of ways to explain the way MoP works and the benefits of adopting it. Boardroom briefings, for example, can be a useful, interactive way to present, not only an outline of the framework, but also contextual examples of what’s in it for them to adopt this approach.

Crucial in all of this, of course, is the culture of the organisation and the behaviours of these board members and other senior managers. Ideally, the culture to aspire to is one which is open, trusting, collaborative, proactive, where everyone is working together towards the common good of the organisation. In this type of culture, the organisational energy is productive where people with high emotional involvement look out for new opportunities and take decisive action to solve problems because they care about their organisation.

In such an energised change culture, the champion-challenger model is used by ‘winners’ who consistently apply it. Let me remind you of this model.

The champion challenger model is a technique to help improve business processes. When used in a portfolio environment everyone is expected to follow an existing, defined portfolio process until it is replaced by an improved and approved alternative. The current process is called the ‘champion’, and anyone can recommend a change to it, called the ‘challenger’. The ‘challenger’, which is the proposed alternative, will be submitted to an approval process for consideration and decision for adoption by those at an appropriate level. As with any other type of proposal when someone is hoping to affect a change, the more examples of why the current process is not working so well and why the alternative could be better, the greater the likelihood of the ‘challenger’ being accepted. Once adopted, the ‘challenger’ becomes the new ‘champion’. Encouraging this approach across an organisation helps to ensure that processes improve because of lessons learned and that stakeholders engage actively in the portfolio management processes.  For this approach to work the organisation must have the right culture. The portfolio processes are often owned by the executives. They must welcome challenges to improve their processes, not see this as a threat to their competence. Organisations that reward those at all levels who seek to bring about improvement are more likely to exhibit the right behaviours.

Effective stakeholder engagement is essential not just a ‘nice to have’ feature. For example, the NHS states that one of the key factors in successful staff engagement is great management and leadership. This includes visibility, accountability and good communication throughout the organisation from the board, through to senior managers and on to first line managers. For the staff engagement to work it its best, the flow needs to be both down and back up through the management structure. Staff need to feel that they can influence the direction of their work, changes to working practices and other decisions that affect patient care across the organisation.

Whatever is done to ‘MoP the boardroom’ it will not be a one-off exercise. To be most effective there must be a circular process of consulting staff, acting on what they say, asking them about the consequences, making appropriate adjustments, and then consulting them all over again.