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Industryweek 14039 Spock

More Spocky, Less Rocky: We Need Smarter Leaders

March 2, 2015
Organizations need their leaders to exhibit Spock-like logic and analytical skills.

With the recent passing of the actor Leonard Nimoy, who played Spock in the 1960s TV series “Star Trek” and the subsequent movies, let’s consider his character’s behavior in contrast to some executives you may have worked for.

As an introduction, on the shelves in the business section of any bookstore are numerous books about leadership and management. I have never considered myself to be a motivational writer or speaker who describes the importance of executives rallying the workforce with inspiration. My interests are more with educating managers and employee teams to help their organizations improve their performance—to be better, faster, cheaper and smarter.

Now I am increasingly writing about the topic of leadership because in my career I have seen examples of leadership styles that reflect individual desire for power more than a duty to improving organizational performance.

Muscle or brain? Strength or smarts? Command or guidance? I choose the latter in all three cases. But how are these relevant to aligning manager’s and employee team’s behavior, projects and priorities with the executive team’s strategic objectives to actually execute the executive’s usually well-formulated strategy?

Analytics-based Enterprise and Corporate Performance Management

The primary source for improvements in organizational effectiveness and decision-making is shifting toward the use of analytics of all flavors. Traditional approaches—like the 1980’s management by objectives (MBOs), bullying employees and hollow wall banners of rhetoric (e.g., “Quality Comes First”)—are being superseded by deploying and integrating business analytics into accepted enterprise and corporate performance management (EPM/CPM) methods.

Examples of business analytics are correlation analysis to understand causal relationships, regression analysis for forecasting, and segmentation to different types of customers. Examples of EPM/CPM methods are the balanced scorecard with its key performance indicators (KPIs), driver-based rolling financial forecasts, enterprise risk management (ERM), lean management, capacity management, and customer profitability reporting and analysis.

Applying business analytics from the CEO’s office to each employee’s desktop enables an organization to frame and solve complex business problems, manage performance to achieve measurable objectives with targets, drive sustainable growth through innovation, and anticipate and manage change.

Having a foundation for business analytics is important. My personal bias of converting insights and foresight into actions often makes me forget that many organizations have issues with data quality and with disparate and nonstandard data sources. Organizations will continue to have problems with all of the data—including Big Data—which they are collecting. Even if their source data has high integrity and is accessible, it still takes time and effort to run reports and provide them to the relevant people. It also takes additional time for those people to leverage the relevant information assuming the right systems are in place. Data integration and management—plus techniques like extract, transform and load (ETL)—can be prerequisites for analytics-based EPM/CPM.

The Emergence of Predictive Analytics

One particularly powerful flavor of analytics is predictive analytics. Applying predictive analytics results in making proactive, forward-looking decisions that go beyond simple query-and-reporting data mining questions like “What happened?”, “How many?” and "How often?” to answer high-impact questions like “Why did it happen?”, “What will happen next?” and “What is the best that can happen?”

A survey by consulting firm Accenture reported that most companies are far from where they want and need to be when it comes to implementing analytics. They are still relying on intuition and gut feeling, rather than fact-based data, when making decisions. What is needed today is the seamless integration of the EPM/CPM managerial methods that I mentioned earlier. Each method can and should be embedded with business analytics, especially predictive analytics.

Overcoming Natural Resistance to Change

Now let’s get back to Spock. What major barrier continues to obstruct the adoption rate of EPM/CPM methods? Technology is no longer an impediment because software solutions are now proven. The barriers are social, behavioral and cultural. There are many examples of this obstacle, including people’s natural resistance to change; not wanting to be measured or held accountable; fear of knowing the truth (or others knowing it); reluctance to share data or information; and “we don’t do that here.”

The reality is few if any of us have training or experience as organizational change management specialists. We are not sociologists. We are not psychologists. And neither are many executives in leadership positions. However, we are learning to become change management practitioners.

I credit New York Times op-ed columnist Maureen Dowd for my title. Her column “Less Rocky, More Spocky” described politicians, but when I apply this title to mission-directed organizations, like yours, I swap the two names. I would prefer to have an organization’s leaders exhibit and promote having Spock-like logic and analytical skills than leaders like Rocky Balboa, punching meat carcasses in the freezer. Captain James T. Kirk, who was played by William Shatner, needed somebody like Spock on the deck of the starship Enterprise. We all do, too.

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