Closing the Intelligence Gap

New Zealand Management, May 2007 | Go to article overview
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Closing the Intelligence Gap

Dilbert jokes underline serious business issues in the mind of Gary Cokins. For if Cokins had his way business would be a lot less muddly than it typically is. Cokins is global product marketing manager--performance management for the SAS Institute and author of Performance Management: Finding the missing pieces in which he argues that performance management (PM) can unleash an epidemic of common sense within an organisation.

Performance management embraces the methodologies, metrics, software tools, processes and systems that bind together a company. It meshes together tools that have existed for ages with more recent ones--balanced scorecards, Six Sigma and activity-based management--into an uber-mother of all systems. Handled well, they enable managers to gain a bird's eye view of their company and, with it, an ability to trim its feathers for better flight.

Since publishing his book in 2004 Cokins has been circling the globe talking through its message with groups of business folk. In New Zealand recently, he says he's long lost track of the total number of presentations but has been ballparking around 30 countries a year for the past two years.

This global perspective, he says, validates something he's always suspected: that business problems worldwide are far more similar than they are dissimilar. "A bank in Wellington faces similar issues to a bank in Denmark or in Prague," he says. "So it's hard to distinguish any national uniqueness."

Cokins admits that organisations with fewer than 10 employees--the lion's share of New Zealand companies--may prove the exception to the rule. "That's because they use management by sight where the entrepreneur is running nine other employees. But when you get to 25 or 50 people working together things become much more complex and many of these companies do not have a clear idea of what their profit margins are in certain areas."

PM, he says, is about navigation, "it's about aligning the behaviour of employees with the intent of the executive ... If an organisation's engine handles the operational stuff--take an order, make an order, deliver it--then senior management is about where to point the car. For all roads are not straight and narrow and the environment is constantly changing."

That organisations increasingly need PM, he says, is the result of a bunch of converging influences worldwide. Senior executives are frustrated with strategy formulation which typically details where the company wants to go but leaves out the strategy map explaining how to get there.

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