The pendulum swings between centralization and decentralization at most large companies so consistently you could use it to set a cuckoo clock. This is especially true for learning and development (L&D) departments.

Every couple of years, someone in the head office looks at all the L&D groups embedded in different parts of the business and different parts of the world and decides that a consolidation is needed. However, these efforts are usually doomed to fail because the business areas and regions really do have unique requirements around learning. More importantly, HR, the usual reluctant owners of this centralized utopia, don’t have the bandwidth to manage it.

A logistical quagmire for learners

So, over time, the L&D departments eventually go back to calling their own shots.

What does this mean for the learning ecosystem? If each L&D team chooses its own learning platforms, maintenance and support will be a nightmare. Each L&D department may be happy with the autonomy but learners have no patience for navigating multiple LMSs or going to several systems to get their training records.

Creating common infrastructure among dispersed groups

Here you have the problem: How can groups that have no accountability to each other share a common infrastructure?

This question invariably comes up when IT brings in a learning technology vendor. The first thing they ask is who owns the system. Everyone in the room stares at each other and shrugs. Without shared responsibility, a shared system will devolve into chaos.

In the absence of a benign dictator to tell everyone what to do, there needs to be a governance model in place that everyone agrees on. The model that works in this situation is called federated governance. Each represented organization or team remains independent and uses the systems in the way that works for their needs. However, they agree to and are bound by a set of minimal rules necessary to ensure that the system works for everyone. These rules are agreed on by the representatives of the organizations.

How to get buy-in from affected groups

Convincing the members of each group to submit to rules that didn’t come from their own leadership is a challenge. The groups are functionally independent and have no obligation to each other.

This process requires champions for the idea. These champions can be from anywhere in the organization and at any level, but they must have the full backing of someone who controls budgets, a sponsor who can convince other people with budgets to support them.

The champions have to convince their stakeholders of the following points:

  • Senior leadership will back the plan
  • Without governance, the platforms will eventually become unusable
  • Each group will be adequately represented
  • Each group will be equally responsible for following the rules:
    • Decisions and changes will be communicated clearly
    • If a decision adversely affects a group, those members will have the opportunity to petition their case to reverse the decision

Elements of a federated governance system

Once stakeholders have agreed to go ahead with a governance, the champions need to solicit the help of people across the organization to build the following components:

  • Leadership Committee consisting of people from each group authorized to make decisions for that group.
  • Operations Committee consisting of everyone who works on the systems. This group discusses upcoming changes and brings up issues.
  • Policies and Procedures Document that defines the responsibilities and expectations of all users of the system. This includes clear consequences for not following the rules.
  • Administrator Training Program that ensures that administrators know how to implement the rules.
  • Maintenance Review Process, a scheduled review of the content in the system to make sure that it is relevant and in compliance with the rules. This group would have the authority to hold members accountable by archiving content that doesn’t meet the standards or no longer has an organization that claims ownership, for example.

Benefits of implementing federated governance

The process may seem onerous but the benefits of creating a governance like this become apparent quickly:

  • It is easier to onboard administrators because the training is up-to-date
  • Implementing big changes, like the adoption of new platforms or major upgrades, is more likely to succeed thanks to the coordinated effort and good communication
  • L&D groups begin to share best practices
  • Reporting and analytics data are more reliable because of standardized data entry
  • Regulators are pleased with clear documentation
  • Learners have more confidence in the systems because their searches bring up more relevant results
  • Learner experience is improved because all of their training and support resources are located in the same system or platform

To be honest, implementing a federated governance is about as easy as herding cats, but the effort pays off. Each L&D group retains the autonomy they need, yet everyone involved feels that they have a shared stake in the success of the platform.

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