Does Your Company Have an Intelligence Problem?: Page 2

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Asking Questions

Executives that should be asking critical questions aren’t, either because they are afraid to look stupid or because they are distracted, or because they simply don’t know what questions to ask (in effect they ARE stupid, but that is curable).

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This problem is not new and was considered by Sun Tzu, who is quoted as saying: “All these five (referring to core intelligence tenants) no general has not heard; one who knows them is victorious, one who does not know them is not victorious.”

Whether you are a CEO, a manager, an employee, or the President of the United States, if you don’t assure clean uncorrupted intelligence you won’t win. And, I believe, if this were the only thing Microsoft fixed, the others would actually fix themselves. This is true of any troubled company from Sony (who desperately needed better intelligence) to Netscape to Novell (particularly in the 90s) to Lotus. Even IBM’s fall in the 80s can largely be tied back to bad or corrupt intelligence (and, in some cases, really bad managers).

Hurd and Fiorina

Look deeply at Mark Hurd in HP. What is the one thing he clearly has fixed that Carly Fiorina, his predecessor, ignored? He gets good intelligence and he takes the time to understand it.

According to those who reported to Carly, she often didn’t ask, and when she got the information she didn’t assure its accuracy nor was she often interested in understanding it. Despite her feeling that she was largely fired because she was a woman, in reality she was fired because she didn’t know enough to do the job. She wasn’t stupid, yet the lack of good intelligence, particularly about her own board, made her ignorant.

One of the difficult parts of all of this is that executives seldom know, until it is too late, they are being misled, and then it is too late to do anything about it. I remember the stories of IBM's fired CEO, John Akers, and his realization that he had been largely lied to for some time before he was fired. I’m sure he would have appreciated an earlier wakeup call, but because he didn’t own his intelligence, his wake-up call was a pink slip.

Watch Michael Dell

Dell has always had an excellent internal business intelligence system. Executives moving there from other firms in the 90s were astounded at the level and quality of information they got on internal performance metrics. Still, they were blindsided in the late 90s, and again earlier this decade, by failing customer satisfaction numbers. They clearly missed both the need to use AMD in critical units and the consumer move back to retail PC purchases.

They now have a new CEO and Michael Dell is back with a vengeance, bringing in top experts to take over key businesses as he both resets his business and lays the groundwork for his successor.

Look at how intimate he is getting with the business. He is engaged and appears to tracking personally the key initiatives necessary to restore his company. While there is a danger of micromanaging there is, as yet, no evidence of it and the firm appears poised for recovery. These things take time though so we probably won’t know for sure until after 4th quarter numbers are reported.

In any case, he clearly isn’t isolated and appears to be trying many of the things that others have found successful.

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