Friday, June 13, 2008

Insight vs. Accountability: Redefining Corporate Performance

Insight: The clear (and often sudden) understanding of a complex situation. (1)

Accountability: The obligation to demonstrate and take responsibility for performance in light of commitments and expected outcomes. (2)

I recently had the opportunity to hear Howard Dresner speak at a business meeting where he touched on the scariest aspect of Enterprise Performance Management – that everyone in the organization becomes accountable (my apologies for the paraphrasing). As he spoke, I experienced an 'Aha' moment. Nobody really wants that. Not really. Well, maybe the CFO, but nobody else.

In past posts I've discussed the evolution of Business Intelligence (BI) and how we've moved from information gathering and analysis into performance-driven organizations. And while I have touched on the shift needed to create a performance-driven culture, I wanted to pause and really think about this.


It's not enough to understand where our business impacts are occurring, or even why they occur. Thus far, companies have made considerable investments to address these issues. We need to go beyond this: we need to know the what, understand the why, and ensure that the people who can take action have the tools in place to make the best decisions, and that they are accountable for the actions that they take, as well as the actions that they don't. That is a big, scary order. Imagine if every decision you made in a day showed up on a scoreboard. Hey, this was in my area of responsibility and I just blew it off, and everyone is the wiser. It cuts against the very grain of corporate culture.

Bob Kaplan and David Norton, creators of the balanced scorecard, identified in their recent Harvard Business Review article Mastering the Management System, (3) "breakdowns in a company's management system, not managers' lack of ability or effort, are what cause a company's underperformance. By management system, we're referring to the integrated set of processes and tools that a company uses to develop its strategy, translate it into operational actions, and monitor and improve the effectiveness of both."

Many companies, recognizing the benefits of performance management, have already made extensive investments in the technologies to support true organizational accountability:
  • EPM systems provide the alignment between strategic, tactical and operational performance.
  • The integration of data from financial, operational and stakeholder systems provides a comprehensive, accurate view of our organizational ecosystem.
  • Process tools such as balanced scorecards let us manage and monitor the transition from strategy to execution.
  • As we come closer to real-time analytics, we are working with a leading, predictive view of our businesses.
With these systems in place, and as we experience unprecedented insight into and understanding of our businesses, we have the infrastructure to support enterprise performance management. We need to continue to develop the business processes and philosophy that support a discipline of continuous awareness and accountability for decision-making within the company.

Building a performance-driven, accountable culture requires a ground-up rethinking of how we do business. It takes leaders from within the organization, at all levels, to drive accountability and to have the discipline to be continually aware of and adapt their plans to subtle changes in the business. They must have a view of the broader business environment, the impacts of their decisions on their own business areas as well as other groups, and access to the right information, updated in real-time. It is a tall order, but by combining accurate data, management tools, and sound business processes, companies can drastically change their performance within the market, and realize gains that go beyond financial success and into a transformation of their corporate culture.

1. Princeton University Cognitive Science Laboratory, WordNet, Insight

2. Government of Canada Information Management Glossary, Accountability

3. Robert Kaplan and David Norton. "Mastering the Management System," Harvard Business Review

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi, I just found your blog through Ron Dimon's blog. Really interesting. Particularly your comments on accountability, it seems the topic is buzzing... I wrote about it in my blog as well...