Making it easy to do the right thing

26 September 2022

GGI’s CEO, Professor Andrew Corbett-Nolan, goes back to basics and asks: what is good governance?

For something that is so critical to the success of organisations, it is surprising how widely and fundamentally misunderstood governance continues to be.

In some ways, it is easiest to identify what governance is not. It is not audit, bureaucracy or business efficiency. Nor is it democracy, social science or populism. And it does not solely concern itself with the processes of decision-making or reporting.

So, what is it? The word derives from the Greek verb kubernaein [kubernáo] meaning ‘to steer’. As this implies, governance is a high-level activity concerned with long-term plans, purpose and impact. Governance is about how organisations are led and run.

Governance is a system that places specific responsibility to maximise the chance of an organisation’s aims being achieved while at the same time having duties towards all of that organisation’s stakeholders. For public services, stakeholders include government, the taxpayer, regulators, staff, users, citizens, business and public sector partners, banks, creditors and competitors.

Governance comprises the following key dimensions:

  • Mission and vision: the point of the organisation
  • Strategy: the agreed aims, plan and targets which deliver the mission
  • Leadership: the agreed way by which the organisation will be led and the culture shaped
  • Assurance: the ongoing process of developing and agreeing policies and continually checking their compliance on behalf of the organisation and its stakeholders
  • Probity and transparency: scrutiny of conduct, decision making, management and overall operation
  • Stewardship: the leaders of an organisation are responsible and accountable for the health and longevity of that organisation

Governance vs good governance

Good governance is a dynamic form of organisational control. Governance that is nothing more than a static structure, seen as a safety net or obligation and orientated around policy and regulatory compliance, cannot deliver real benefit.

Good governance adds value. It is lean, transparent and ethical, focused on tackling operational challenges in ways that complement the big-picture vision. It always seeks the best outcomes for stakeholders and is never content with merely staying out of trouble.  

Good governance is about delivering meaning measurable outcomes. Individually and as an organisation we subscribe to Professor Judge Mervyn King’s view on the meaningful outcomes of good governance, which are:  

  • Ethical culture: In the course of making decisions in the best interest of the organisation, the governing body should ensure that a stakeholder-inclusive approach is adopted, which takes into account and balances their legitimate and reasonable needs, interests and expectations. 
  • Good performance: The governing body should lead an audacious value creation process by appreciating that strategy, risk and opportunity, performance and sustainable development are inseparable elements.  
  • Effective control: The governing body should govern risk and opportunity in a way that supports the organisation in defining its core purpose and sets and achieves strategic objectives. It should ensure that assurance results in an adequate and effective control environment and the integrity of reports for better decision making.  
  • Legitimacy: The governing body should set the tone and lead ethically and effectively ensuring that the organisation is a responsible corporate citizen delivering improvements to the wellbeing of staff, society and the environment as well as financial sustainability. 

Good governance enables organisations to build a more sustainable, better future for all of us. It makes it easier to do the right thing, and harder to do the wrong thing. It helps us all to build a better, fairer world. 

About Professor Andrew Corbett-Nolan

GGI’s chief executive, Professor Andrew Corbett-Nolan, has a national reputation as a governance expert, with more than 30 years’ experience as a director and a consultant.

He is a visiting professor of governance at the University of Chester, a Salzburg Global Governance Fellow and is on the board of Judge Professor Mervyn King’s global initiative, the Good Governance Academy, based in Johannesburg, as well as that of the UK Public Health Register. He is also a founding director of the Clore Cultural Governance Alliance.

Before establishing GGI in 2009, Andrew was the first director for Health Services Accreditation, the in-house accreditation service for the NHS, development director at the King’s Fund, chief executive of the Health and Social Care Quality Centre, national head of healthcare consulting at Bentley Jennison, and development director of the Commissioning Institute.

Over his career, Andrew has:

  • contributed to the success of numerous public sector organisations through working with their boards and providing counsel to their leadership
  • been a constructive contributor to the development of UK public sector governance over three decades
  • presented papers at many international conferences and symposia, including to the World Bank
  • published numerous papers, articles and reports and contributed to books on governance and healthcare management
  • held board posts as an executive within the NHS, private sector and not-for-profits, including being non-executive director of Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust, vice chair of the Terrence Higgins Trust, a trustee of Health Unlimited (Blue Peter Charity 2000), and chair of the Institute of Healthcare Management – he also served as a non-executive director of the UK Public Health Register
  • helped to develop overseas healthcare systems with the Council for Health Services Accreditation of Southern Africa and the Joint Commission International
  • directed the mapping of patient safety efforts across Europe as part of the EU funded SIMPATIE programme and was a member of the expert group for the pan-European EU-funded HANDOVER programme.

Andrew is also a board member of the Hastings Contemporary art gallery and a patron of both the Salzburg Festspiele and the English National Opera.

Meet the author: Andrew Corbett-Nolan

Chief Executive

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Prepared by GGI Development and Research LLP for the Good Governance Institute.

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