I have essentially made a career out of being able to dig down and uncover the root cause of problems. For many years I served at the request of the CFO of a large consumer goods corporation. He would crunch the numbers, do some analysis and then say “Go down to the plant at Dayton, Tennessee and see what is happening in the warehouse – invoices are arriving to dealers before the product does”. And off I would go, dig through all the issues, discover the real source of the problem and develop solutions on how to fix the problem. The CFO would pick from the choices I had offered up and then I would lead the charge to make changes. It was a great deal of fun.
But there were two itches that could not be scratched in the role that I had. One, often times the solutions I developed were only partially implemented. I would create what I felt was a great design but reservations of local management would prevent them from fully implementing my solution. And though improvements were gained, they often fell short of what they could have been. I wanted to have control of an organization where I could design, implement and then execute.
The other itch was wanting to participate in the setting of direction for the corporation. One of my inherent strengths is the ability to think strategically. I wanted to be in the Board Room when direction was being set and strategies were being developed.
In order to gain access to that august group I had to take on the role of an executive so when I was offered the CIO position I took it. I believed I would now have control over an entire department and could mold it in the image I felt would best serve the corporation. And I would participate in strategy sessions.
Indeed I did get to shape the IT department but there were constraints placed on me by the CEO. This is to be expected. Unfortunately I spent too much time explaining and re-explaining what we were doing in IT and how we were actually saving the corporation money.
And I became disenchanted with strategic planning. If every company goes through a planning process then why do so many companies underperform? What is it about the planning process that is not working?
Turns out it has to do with design. A strategy can only be executed if a design can accommodate it. Executives fail to realize that their business has a design and therefore ignore it or think that changing strategies has an effect on business design. It does not. To improve the performance of a business you have to go beyond strategy! You must look to the business design for success.