Is the success of your career or organization at risk because you or your colleagues are reluctant to adopt better managerial improvement methods? Adaptation is necessary in any industry – even the movies. Let’s use the example of cinema to demonstrate how careers can fizzle out due to reluctance to change with the times.

Evolution in the Movie Industry

The first movies, of course, did not have any sound, and the popularity of silent films peaked in 1928. The shift to “talkies” – where a soundtrack was added to movies – was quick, and not all the directors and actors who were successful during the silent film era made the transition. In fact, director D.W. Griffith was the most prominent pioneer of American films but was unable to adapt as film evolved to include sound.

Is this happening now to the careers of managers who cannot make the transition from traditional to progressive performance management methodologies?

A parallel exists between the movie industry and what is now happening as organizations adopt progressive performance management methodologies like strategy maps, the balanced scorecard, customer profitability analysis based on activity-based costing and rolling financial budgets. Managers wed to 1980s management methods (e.g., management by objectives, standard product cost accounting and fixed-contract-like annual budgets) risk being replaced by a new breed of managers who get it – who understand the power of performance management methodologies. Are there any D.W. Griffiths working with your organization?

You’ve Got Mail

We can learn more lessons from the movies about applying performance management methodologies.

I must confess. Despite my perception of myself as a tough guy – a varsity football player at my university – my eyes misted at the end of the 1998 Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan movie, You’ve Got Mail. In the film, the characters establish an anonymous relationship through emails in which they often share helpful advice. (Spoiler alert: a parallel relationship in which the characters – who own competing businesses – exchange advice also develops in person. At the end, Ryan’s character realizes Hanks’ character is both the adversary she had come to admire and the anonymous emailer. They embrace, and presumably live happily ever after.)

What does this have to do with implementing enterprise performance management methods? I frequently receive unsolicited emails with questions of all sorts from individuals ranging from university students to internal performance management project champions to executives. As I exchange advice and develop relationships with these people, I feel like I have pen pals and long-lost friends.

Getting Buy-In and Support

Many questions within these emails relate to a common theme of how to get the buy-in and support to pursue a performance management methodology initiative. Information seekers want to know how to promote the construction of strategy maps, balanced scorecards, customer profitability and value management analysis, business analytics, or driver-based budgeting and rolling financial forecasts. These solutions are not legal requirements -- they are all optional -- so persuasion is needed for companies to accept and adopt these initiatives. Executive buy-in and sponsorship is essential to success.

Like Ryan in the movie, I am unaware of the identities of the people writing me, except perhaps for a few clues. My answer, however, never wavers.

To overcome the natural and expected resistance to change of coworkers, having the vision of a solution and practical steps (e.g., a pilot project) to implement it is not enough. One must raise a level of discomfort and dissatisfaction with the status quo to motivate people. That is, one must stimulate sufficient anxiety with continuing operations as-is to overcome any opposition to trying something new from managers and employees. For example, to demonstrate the need for improvement you can draw attention to the consequences of continuing to make decisions on inadequate or flawed data,. (To learn more about this, read a fictitious executive’s answer in my article “A ‘Dear CEO’ Advice Column.”)
It is not easy to be critical of your own organization. Further, it is a challenge to identify a coalition of coworkers who feel as compelled as you to adopt performance management methodologies. But it must be done. You will need to decide if you are just a follower or a leader. Pursue what you know is needed – not just to adapt, but to make a difference.

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