OHA Trustees Should Not Micromanage Employees

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Keli‘i Akina, Ph.D., Trustee, At-Large

When it comes to decision-making in an organization, it is not just the decision itself that matters, but who is responsible for making the decision.

In well-run organizations, there is a clear distinction between the decisions that should be made by top-level leaders in governance and those that should be made by managers at the operational level. When this line is crossed, unintended consequences can affect the organization and its employees.

Recently, the Board of Trustees for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) felt it was necessary to cross this line and address the organization’s telework practice.

On June 1, 2023, following a closed executive session, the trustees voted eight to one “…to end the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ present teleworking practice effective July 1, 2023.”

While I firmly believe that my colleagues acted in good faith and voted based on what they believed was the best interest of the organization, I found it necessary to vote against this action. My decision was guided by the principle that trustees should focus on governance rather than management. This means that trustees should concentrate on analyzing, approving, and implementing sound governance policies, while leaving the day-to-day management of staff to OHA’s administrative leaders.

The crucial distinction between governance and management is widely recognized in both the public and private sectors. For example, the Good Governance Institute in London advocates for this separation as it allows board members to focus on the bigger picture while leaving operational aspects to managers.*

The recent action by OHA’s board, which saw trustees taking on an administrative role, raises the concern that we are not operating according to established best practices. It also sends a confusing signal to prospective candidates as the board begins the process of recruiting a new CEO. We will have a difficult time attracting the most qualified and experienced executive talent to work in an environment where the roles of the board and CEO are not clearly defined or followed.

Additionally, the board should take into consideration concerns raised by OHA’s administration in response to the directive to end telework. Administration leaders have expressed that OHA has not engaged in comprehensive discussions that weigh the pros and cons of telework to make an informed decision.

Furthermore, they point out that there has not been adequate evaluation of the productivity levels of teleworking employees compared to those who work at the office. These concerns underscore the importance of conducting thorough discussions and research before making hasty decisions.

Looking ahead, it would be prudent for OHA to reconsider the option of telework after conducting careful due diligence and research, especially given the fact that we have a high number of staff vacancies within OHA. In a post-COVID world, telework can play a role in attracting and retaining talent – something that could help fill the current vacancies.

Essentially, telework is a tool that OHA’s CEO and administrative leaders should have at their disposal to utilize as they see fit.

In conclusion, there is more here at stake than the debate over governance and management practices. We must remember that OHA’s staff are not just workers; they are individuals with families, who deserve to be valued and respected. Rapid decisions made without adequate due diligence could inadvertently impact their lives and the morale of the organization.

For the sake of our staff and the beneficiaries of OHA, let us treat one another as ‘ohana: Aloha kekahi i kekahi.

*Good Governance Institute, “Management or Governance?” July 28, 2021. For questions or comments about this column, please contact Trustee Akina at TrusteeAkina@oha.org.