Over the last few weeks I had several meetings and discussions with C-level management of financial institutions, mostly CEO and CIO, but some LOB execs as well. The core subject was in all cases how IT could help to clearly define a business strategy and translate it into operational execution. We talked Balanced Scorecard (BSC), capability maps, strategy maps, process management and other popular concepts. The related approaches around software portfolio management were of nearly no interest. They felt that software was dramatically lagging and it was impossible for them to wait for IT to follow through. That is a substantial problem for enterprises that utterly depend on IT to execute.
All executives felt that there is still a MISSING LINK between strategy theory and executive reality because it just provides itemized lists or graphical mindmaps. While these are helpful to communicate, even sample spreadsheets or even ready-made BSC and KPI dashboards in BI products fall short of expectations. I also asked why Business Intelligence did not fulfill their information and management needs. They all agreed that their IT systems provided a lot of data, substantially less information, and absolutely no ACTIONABLE knowledge. Meaning … what do I do if this KPI goes thataway? Who has to take which decisions when and what information is needed? How does twiddling one of the management controls effect the various KPIs? How effective and interconnected are the controls? Even to know what controls are there is not as easy at it seems. As obvious controls were seen budgets, goals and awards. Automated processes do not improve a business, they just freeze it a pseudo-optimal state. Business is improved where decisions are being made. Management must identify those decision points where for end-to-end processes, process goals, business intelligence, and business knowledge empower the performer to take customer-oriented action.
I discussed my concept of LEVERAGE POINTS from my (hopefully soon) upcoming book that links processes goals and activities with knowledge and information. I was surprised how well the link to empowerment with authority, goals and means was accepted. Not everyone found it easy to accept the notion that all decisions are emotionally intuitive and much less rational and intelligent than we like to believe.
One of those meetings took place at the UBS VIP lounge at the ART-Basel fair and the location matched my opinion that management – on all levels where strategy is born and translated – IS NOT science, but is ART! That produced as many different reactions as I had met people, but they all agreed in the end that one or the other aspect of their job required an artiste. I was asked what I would qualify as art and how that matched a management skill. I said: ‘Art is creative, unique, individual expression that produces an emotional, harmonic resonance in the observer.’ What I perceive as art is linked to a personal, unexplainable reaction that defies explanation. It is not reasonable but still convincing. Art triggers the unconscious links to the artist.
And that would be exactly the same for a great executive. A visionary executive can be utterly unreasonable but motivate people to attempt the seemingly impossible. A strategy can fail to provide proof, but be crystal clear as Alpine air in winter. A great artist or executive is approachable and authentic, regardless whether people perceive him/her as an oddball. Artists-executives don’t lie and they don’t copy other’s works. Can we assume that many great artists are also good managers? Must we distinguish between leadership and management? Is management a learned practice and leadership an intuitive skill only?
One response was that artists have no need to show leadership and do not need to solve personnel conflicts or deal with monetary constraints. I utterly disagree and most certainly with the last. Only the smallest percentage of artists have no monetary constraints and quite the opposite is normal. An artist who does not lead – meaning to do something new – is not doing art. A movie director is an artist who budgets, hires people, and has to meet a deadline. A conductor having to deal with the tantrums of a diva is not mediating? Have you ever seen how difficult it is for a photographer to motivate a model? The immense experience necessary to use the right lighting? The patience it takes to wait for the right moment for a landscape shot? And what about technology? Most artistic expression has been changed dramatically by technology, but hardly ever does more CGI (computer generated images) improve a boring movie. It will still depend on the creativity of the involved artists, but contemporary movie making is nearly impossible without modern technology.
Yes, management is not a science. And where it involves any kind of leadership it is an art. And like with art, just throwing a lot technology at it won’t improve the quality. Yes, technology is no more than a tool, just like MBA methodology. Clearly, an MBA won’t make you an executive, while an artist executive will be able to use MBA knowledge more effectively. There is neither a methodology to produce a sucessful movie or write a hit song. Therefore there is no methodology to be a great executive either, but providing the right technology that empowers people – executives to employees to customers – to communicate freely and in real-time (within the limits or privacy and business security) about goals, data, and content, while adhering to necessary rules, can change the business world much as the mobile phone is changing life in the third world! Empowering executives to create ‘The Art of Strategy’ and enable execution and verification in real-time must be the goal for the future of information technology.