In 1773 Benjamin Franklin, one of the USA’s founding fathers, wrote a pamphlet aimed at the royalty of England titled Rules by Which a Great Empire May Be Reduced to a Small One. Satire is one way to get your point across. I apply my own style of satire here to appeal to organizations to cease their hesitation and skepticism and embrace the benefits of enterprise and corporate performance management (EPM/CPM methods. I apologize in advance if I offend anyone, but sometimes there is truth in humor.
Imagine that I took over the management of a poorly performing organization and wanted to keep it that way. For example, I might not want it to grow so quickly that it would leave me less time to pursue my hobbies and watching my recorded television shows. What steps would I take?
First, I would ensure that all of the managers and employees are totally ignorant of the executive team’s strategy. That way no one will understand how the work they do each week or each month contributes to successfully achieving the strategy. Next, I would figure out ways to insure that managers and employees don’t trust one another. I would discourage dissent and debate. It would be tricky to preserve some level of harmony by not allowing healthy conflict among managers that are already distrustful of each other, but I think I could do it.
Next, I would avoid holding anyone accountable. That would be fairly easy because I would disallow reporting of performance measures. Anyone mentioning the phrase “the balanced scorecard” would be summarily fired. I’d allow employees to measure their local processes and results in dashboards. After all, I don’t want the organization to go bankrupt; I just want poor performance. But I would restrict any measures from being key performance indicators (KPIs) because we would not want to monitor our progress toward attaining any targets that are strategic. I would try to disallow setting of targets, but some managers have a nasty habit of liking them. I think those managers believe that if they could make it appear that they are better performers than others, that I would then reward them with a “pay for performance” bonus system. If I allow people to be motivated this way, performance might improve. I’m not going to fall for that trick.
I would freeze our managerial accounting system to remain in its archaic state. It was probably designed in the 1950s, but our external financial auditors have always been giving us an OK qualifying attest grade. I’d allow managers to hire more support overhead to manage the increasing complexity resulting from our expanding variety of products and services, but I’d preserve the primitive overhead cost allocations to processes and products using those distorting and misleading broad averages, like product sales volume, headcount, or number of units produced. Most employees would already know that these cost allocations cause big inaccurate cost errors, but I would want to keep them guessing about which products make or lose money and what it actually costs to perform our key business processes. I don’t think my financial controller will correct this flawed accounting practice, but I need to keep a watchful eye because my accountants are getting much smarter about how to improve operations and serve as strategic advisors to me.
We would need to be careful about how much information we collect and report about our customers. Obviously we’d report their sales volume data, but I would not segment our customers into any groupings. I’d keep sales reporting at a lump sum level. I don’t want anyone asking questions like, “Which types of customers should we retain, grow, acquire or win back from competitors?” To keep our company from tanking, I would encourage sales growth by putting big signs in the marketing department saying, “More sales at any cost!” I’d prevent the CFO from any thoughts of measuring and reporting individual customer profitability information.
But that would be easy because our arcane cost accounting system is not capable of calculating that information. The marketing people typically spend their budget with a “spray and pray” approach, anyway. Targeting specific types of customers and getting a high-yield payback from our marketing spend would be outside their level of thinking. I’d maintain our advertising spending as the “black hole” that no one understands what it yields.
I would, of course, implement an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. I wouldn’t want to be at a cocktail party with other executives and admit I don’t have one. That would be too embarrassing, like a teenager without an iPod or mobile phone. Luckily, my understanding is that ERP systems alone don’t improve performance. They produce mountains of transactional data for daily control but not meaningful information from which anyone could make wise judgments or good decisions. Maybe I am wrong about this.
Our budgeting system would be another way to assure our poor performance. Since the budget numbers are obsolete a couple of months after we begin the fiscal year, assembling the budget for six months during the prior year continues to provide a great distraction and prevents anyone from working on more important things. Plus I love to send the budget back down a few times to be redone to lower the budgeted costs. Everyone always moans. I would be very stingy about giving managers any budget for one-time projects. When those kinds of initiatives sneak in, companies always get a jolt of productivity improvement, which is counter to poor performance.
We would squeeze our suppliers. We could talk about partnering and collaboration with them, but any attempt to actually do so would be squashed immediately. Never trust a supplier. If you drive one out of business, you can always find another.
I don’t think I could stop employees from using spreadsheets. They are contagious. But since every department has their own spreadsheets, it is like a Tower of Babel. Employees waste a lot of time trying to make their numbers match. That’s good for poor performance. I might allow a few departments to purchase a common database to warehouse their information. But fortunately, there would be lots of incorrect input data in it, so that bad experience would burst their bubble. Those employees with spreadsheets might want to use them for forecasting and planning. I’d put a stop to that by calling it gambling and promote our company as being conservative. Gambling is for fools, so I’d set a policy forbidding risk taking.
I know that operating a poorly performing business is an extremely difficult job, but I think I am up to the task. Suppressing the efforts of all those employees and managers who want to think, contribute and make the business successful requires constant vigilance. The business world, websites, and magazines are full of subversive ideas that could hamstring my efforts to keep my company floundering aimlessly. I will cancel all business magazine subscriptions and get IT to block our employees from viewing business websites.
I am particularly concerned about this new concept called “corporate performance management (CPM).” Whatever it is, I will stop it from happening. I believe that with hard work and dedication, I can keep any company from reaching its profit-making potential.
(About the author: Gary Cokins is the founder of Analytics-Based Performance Management LLC, an advisory firm. He is an internationally recognized expert, speaker and author in advanced cost management and performance improvement systems; previously a principal consultant with SAS. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more of Cokins' unique look at the world, visit his website at www.garycokins.com .)
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