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What Can Historical Figures Teach Us About Performance Management?

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Achieving the full vision of an enterprise performance management framework involves more than selecting one of its many methodologies and purchasing software to install and implement the solution. It requires individuals with talent and skill. The following is a list of people who have inspired me and exemplify the valuable traits required to achieve the full vision of enterprise performance management:

Socrates – An effective way to help people learn is by asking questions that lead to meaningful answers. Socrates taught Plato and other Greek philosophers by making them explore answers to his questions rather than just lecturing. For example, asking “Does our organization measure the correct indicators that reveal progress toward achieving our strategic objectives?” is more stimulating than simply providing a list of commonly accepted industry metrics.

Thomas Jefferson – Americans typically have a favorite founding father nation. Mine is Jefferson because he believed in a fair society. Performance management involves equitable allocation of resources to align with the organization’s strategy to optimize results. For example, activity-based costing accurately traces costs. Compare that to traditional, broadly averaged cost allocations that give the false impression that some products subsidize others.

Orson Welles – Welles wrote, directed and starred in the lead role of Citizen Kane, a movie that is often cited by critics as one of the greatest cinema works ever. Welles always challenged the status quo with constructive dissent, and he discovered and developed exceptional talent. Dissent and talent growth both contribute to improving organizational performance.  

Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods – These golfers demonstrate how focus and concentration in golf yield results. Performance management involves focusing on and prioritizing where to make improvements rather than trying to be effective everywhere, which can distract resources from efforts where they can have higher yield impacts.

Aaron Copland, George Gershwin, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie and Benny Goodman – It is a rare gift to pen onto a blank music sheet from one’s brain combinations of notes that so many of us cherish as music. These five composers introduced innovation (and coincidently an identifiable American sound). Innovation is an entry ticket to improve performance. The realization of performance improvement with good strategy formulation, its execution and process excellence must then follow.

Billy Wilder and Alfred Hitchcock – These two renowned movie directors – both immigrants to the U.S. – navigated their way to the top of their field. Strong leadership, is required to successfully direct movies. Similarly, leadership sets the course for where an organization should go, and then looks to integrated performance management methodologies to get it there.  

Thomas Edison – Edison epitomizes invention, design and innovation. His “ideas factory” is legendary. Performance improvement accelerates with creativity and discovery.

Richard Feynman – Although Feynman won a Nobel Prize in physics for his research in quantum electrodynamics, he is not a household name. Some will recall his role in the investigation of the tragic Challenger space shuttle explosion. In testimony before Congress, he dropped o-rings into a cold glass of water to demonstrate their inelasticity that proved fatal to the craft. Feynman was extraordinarily smart. Brilliance is not essential for success with performance management, but the quest for discovery and continuous learning is essential. Applying business analytics for postulating theories, testing them and acting on insights is crucial for success.

Gene Kelly – Kelly demonstrated unique traits as a dancer: strength and discipline with grace. Kelly was recognized for rehearsaling dance routines endlessly until they were flawless. Quality matters with performance management.

Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and Audrey Hepburn – Whether it was comedy or drama, these three charismatic cinema stars were exceptionally versatile. Agility to quickly adjust and react is critical for performance management. Very little is stable today with external factors causing rapid changes.

Edward R. Murrow – This articulate journalist, radio and television broadcaster revealed false beliefs when he publicly grilled U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy for accusing and harassing innocent people as alleged Communist Party members. Challenging accepted beliefs is vital to improve organizational performance.   

Johnny Carson as “Carnac the Magnificent” – One of the funniest character skits of the late-night television host and comedian was his elaborately costumed psychic. Predictive analytics is arguably the most distinctive aspect to performance management. It shifts management from being reactive to proactive – adjusting for changes in anticipation of when changes are needed. The result is less uncertainty and fewer surprises.

Red Grange, Gale Sayers and Walter Payton – I grew up in Chicago, where these three remarkable athletes played as running backs for the NFL’s Chicago Bears. These Hall of Famers could execute. Performance management requires artful execution of strategy and core processes in addition to planning and risk management. 

I could have cited dozens of others, but an exhaustive list is not the point. My intent is to demonstrate, through examples, that strong character traits in performance management advocates are central to advancing the adoption and integration of performance management’s portfolio of methodologies. Using the skills of talented and motivated staff, management in many organizations will be able to realize the full vision of enterprise performance management and propel their organizations to new levels of effectiveness. 

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