This part is where we, HGII, share our stories - stories on various topics that we believe can help others too understand human behavior better. Do feel free to visit this page from time to time.
To start the conversation, we share our view on the issue of governance.
Governance – A Brief Overview
The origin of the term ‘governance’ is traceable to ancient Greek steersman giving direction to a ship or land-based vehicle. The focus then was about the conduct of the individual human person in discharging the trust placed upon that human. With the scope of human responsibility extending beyond steering of vehicle of transport and that the role of “steering” was placed on a group of humans rather than an individual, the concept of governance over time, saw its usage in a wider context of organizations and societies. During the 14th Century France, governance referred to the government.
When corporations were recognised as legal persons, governance shifted to the ambit of how a corporation runs itself. Although corporations are accorded the same legal rights as humans, a corporation is not a natural human endowed with an innate internal unwritten constitution. The need for an external rule-based written system of conduct became pressing. The 20th Century saw the introduction of Code of Corporate Governance incorporated into the Company Law of many jurisdictions and overseen by the respective regulatory bodies. These codes which spell out for instance the mechanism, processes and procedures, relations and rights, are meant to provide the guiding principles for the corporations’ affairs. Responsibility of the board of directors and the limits of authority of management are among areas included in the code. Nonetheless, despite the presence of such codes, the 21st Century has seen a series of high profile cases of corporate scandals of unprecedented magnitude. Growing in tandem, is the severity of revised penalties accorded to those found guilty of the crimes. The ethos of corporate governance now takes a slant towards being a rule-based external mechanism - protocol - to control corporations.
Shifting of Thought Paradigm to Human Governance
Moving on to the landscape of governance in other sectors, the strategy for rule-based governance structure of conformance seems to be emulated. However, instead of developing new governance framework to suit the peculiarity of each context and setting, tweaking of established codes of corporate governance appears to be a preferred choice. Dissimilar purpose for establishment and culture of operations tend to be discounted.
For instance, phrases like corporate governance in the public sector is gaining traction while best practices on corporate governance of higher education institutions no longer seen as a misnomer. So, what are the thoughts behind non-corporate leaders’ embracing of the corporate governance mindset given that their fields have different needs and agendas, requiring different set of game rules from that of the corporate world?
Entrenched in the governance narrative is a preoccupation with the word “governance”. Solving problem of bad governance (which includes non-performance of duties) has always been prescribed from the perspective of looking for improvements to existing process. That the source of governance problem is of unethical human behaviour somehow has not triggered the thought to instead shift attention to the human. This is akin to the efforts by scientists to resolve the problem of perihelion (discrepancy in the orbital movement) of the planet Mercury. For some time, the approach had been to hold Newton’s equation as the default theory while tinkering with other variables more as ad-hoc reaction. The solution was finally arrived at when instead, Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity was applied.
Similarly, in the fabric of good governance, a fresh outlook is necessary. The fixation with enhancement of the process, systems and mechanism as the sole route to good governance needs to be discarded. The prospect of new stratagem to circumvent every revised code of corporate governance is a reality. The business world has seen even auditors, who, claiming custodian role of public interest have been caught breaching the corporate governance codes. Likewise, cases of unethical behaviour are observed in other facets of professional workplace including the civil service. While definitive penalties can serve as deterrent for some, for some others, the possibility of not being caught has been found a motivator.
Subscribing to the belief that governance is a consequence of human endeavour, Aziuddin Ahmad and Arfah Salleh as originators of the concept of human governance in the post-modern contemporary era shifted emphasis from governance as the operative word to that of the human. The contention is that, the solution for the problem of governance lies with the human. For as long as humans can play their rightful role as stewards regardless of setting (be it corporate, private or public), good governance will ensue. After all, what is common across all types of organisations and communities is the human factor. And as has been manifested, it is the failure of be-ing human – not actualizing human governance – that has resulted in many integrity disgraces.
The profound role of human in the effort to effect good governance thus, can never be overemphasised.
In physics and cosmology which deal with inanimate objects, it has been found that it is the actions of the conscious observer that influence the results of a measurement (the observer effect). The mere act of observation affects the experimental findings. In the famous oft-quoted double slit experiment in quantum physics, the behaviour of a photon is determined by how it is observed by the observer, whether as wave or particle. According to Heisenberg (1958) in his Physics and Philosophy book, “This is a very strange result, since it seems to indicate that the observation plays a decisive role in the event and that the reality varies, depending upon whether we observe it or not.” Hence, physics does not tell us what nature is but rather how the observer experiences the interaction with nature. Given such overwhelming evidence regarding the role of observer even in physical sciences, ignoring the human in a human-based phenomenon is proverbially ignoring the elephant in the room. The relevance of human governance which is about living out the human in us is deserving of consideration in the pursuit for good governance.
In our call for the actualisation of human governance, we begin with the fundamental question of, “What does it mean to be human?” For us, one’s conduct is only a reflection of one’s thought of what a human is to oneself. This concerns the epistemological and ontological stance that one subscribes to.
For instance, the core of human nature may be viewed by some as only physical material. Consequently, the purpose of epistemology is more as providing the prerequisite tool for them to conduct the daily vocational transaction rather than to serve their ontology. Likewise, if one prefers to ignore the essence of human as a relational being whose conduct has implication upon others, one’s life purpose can solely be about preserving one’s self interest. That thought and choice are central in human behaviour is indisputable.
Good governance will remain elusive if human thought is excluded from the governance equation based on a frame of reference where human is physical material. Where is ethics – itself non-material – to be located in such a paradigm?