Watch my hips, not my lips


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Many organizations over plan and under execute. The managerial styles I admire are ones with a bias towards action. Not wild actions to run the train off the tracks, but actions that move the train forward.

The most memorable managers I have worked for were those with a ready-fire-aim approach to leadership. This does not mean they had little idea where they were going and were consequently flailing. It means they were anxious to make progress and realize measurable results. Today we are in a speed-up world. The countries and economies of our world have shifted from being disconnected to connected to inter-connected to interdependent. As this has occurred analytics provide insights for better and faster decision making.

Pareto was right

I love Pareto’s principle, named after an Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. It is known as the 80–20 rule which is the law of the vital few factors. The principle states that for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. This acceptance of focusing on the vital few factors rather than the trivial many gets things done more quickly.

W. Edward Deming was an American statistician and consultant best known for his work with Japan companies in the 1950s. He taught top Japanese management how to improve through various methods, including the application of statistical methods. Deming was an advocate of the repetitive cycle to plan-do-check-act with its acronym PDCA. Improvement is aided by learning curves meaning that feedback from experience is a staircase to refining a process, product or service until it is good enough – until it meets the specifications. Just don’t define the specifications too tightly.

Perfection and precision are not in my vocabulary. I believe there are diminishing returns of incremental improvement for the extra effort of work to make the improvement. I like managers who advocate quick pilots, proof of concept experiments, and rapid prototyping with iterative re-modeling methods. My standard test question for time and effort on a project is, “Is the higher climb worth the view?”

Gaining speed through granting decision rights

An obvious example of not getting sufficient traction to accelerate speed is long meetings. These are the meetings that neglect to conclude with defined next steps and may be dominated by one or a few who seem to like to hear themselves speak.

Another example of drag on action is the approval process. Too many managers may be involved. Performance improvement actions are the consequence of thousands of daily decisions made by employees. There are two powerful levers for performance improvement and more broadly execution of the executive team’s formulated strategy: (1) clarifying decision rights, and (2) designing effective information flows.

Clarifying decision rights – As organizations grow in size, the approval process gets complex and foggy. Employees become unsure where one person’s accountability begins and another’s ends. Work-arounds then subvert formal hierarchical reporting relationships. Clarifying who has what decision-making authority and empowering decentralized decisions lower into the organization brings mission-critical agility – as long as trust is given by the executives and second-guessing by supervisors is minimized.

Designing effective information flows – Decisions are based on information. Too often information flows are blocked by organizational silos. Collaboration is important. To complicate matters, logical and judicious decisions are constrained by the type and quality of information available to employees. Some organizations simply have inconsistent and poor-quality data. Even with a new transactional business system, such as an enterprise resource planning (ERP) or customer relationship management (CRM) system, organizations drown in oceans of data but starve for information in a form that business analytics can mine and that can be quickly interpreted in the context of a problem or needed decision.

Capitalizing on big data and business and business analytics

Big data and business analytics are now frequently written about, embraced by the business intelligence community, and becoming a “hot” topic. But how hot? To become a rage – hot enough to become a raging fire – there will be more needed than hollow worded talk and lip service.

The type of management style I hope rises is one where employees are inspired by managers where you watch their hips and not their lips.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Gary Cokins, CPIM
Gary Cokins (Cornell University BS IE/OR, 1971; Northwestern University Kellogg MBA 1974) is an internationally recognized expert, speaker, and author in advanced cost management and enterprise performance and risk management (EPM/ERM) systems. He is the founder of Analytics-Based Performance Management LLC, an advisory firm located in Cary, North Carolina at Gary is the Executive in Residence of the Institute of Management Accountants (


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