Deliberate Decision-Making: How Governance Enables Better Operational Results

By Briana Petyo Frisone

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Governance is often viewed as slow and obstructionist. Because of this, some leaders chose to allow certain priorities to bypass their formal review and approval structures rather than improve those structures to be responsive and meaningful. Every administration in recent history has rushed to announce a seemingly good policy idea, bypassing proper stakeholder engagement, operational planning, and resourcing. While the short-term win can be an alluring indication of progress and compelling justification to skip the governance process, the result is often a protracted or ineffective implementation. When managed effectively, governance structures and processes ensure that policy direction can effectively be turned into operational reality.   

In my experience during my time in government, several key features of effectively managed, good governance stand out. The governance structure:

  • Enables integrated, tiered decision making 
  • Defines roles, responsibilities, and process
  • Communicates effectively to stakeholders
  • Tracks and reports performance against consistent metrics to inform continuous improvement

These features serve two purposes. The first is that they level-set expectations. Leadership and its stakeholders know what to expect and when. If everyone knows how decisions are made, what information is needed, when, and from whom you need to seek input and approval, that clarity enables rapid movement from policy proposal to operational implementation, including in response to exigent circumstances. The second is that they empower people at every level of the organization. Senior leadership deliberates its decisions, knowing they are informed by meaningful analysis and engagement by all the necessary stakeholders. Mid-level leadership uses the authority delegated by senior leadership to make certain decisions with the understanding that senior leadership will have insight into, respect for, and will support those results. Mid-level leadership and staff function as subject matter experts by providing information on major risks to effective implementation, identify mitigation strategies, and establish expectations for supporting entities. Staff have transparency into decision-making rationales to better support future deliberations and understand why decisions were made when working to implement decisions, even when they do not match staff recommendations exactly.

Establishing and exercising this type of governance takes time and commitment but it leads to more effective operational outcomes and ensures meaningful progress towards implementation of the administration’s policy agenda.  

Briana Petyo Frisone formerly served as Senior Counselor to the Secretary of Homeland Security and is currently an Associate Director with Guidehouse.

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