Don’t Cry, Shopgirl

October 20, 2009
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I confess. Despite my perception of myself as a tough guy – co-captain of my university football team – my eyes misted at the end of the 1998 Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan movie, You’ve Got Mail. In the film, Hanks’ new big box Barnes and Noble-like book store in NYC’s Manhattan had put Meg Ryan’s small West Side children’s book store out of business.

During the movie, Hanks anonymously exchanges AOL e-mails with Ryan as a new friend and gradually an admirer. Despite her resentment of the known Hanks for his callous business style, she came to like him for his helpful advice during constant coincidental meetings in neighborhood stores, paralleling similar advice of the anonymous e-mailer – also from the same Hanks. At the movie’s conclusion when the two anonymous e-mailers agree to meet in Central Park, to Ryan’s surprise Hanks appears as the anonymous e-mailer at the agreed location. At first she is confused why he’s there, too. Then she realizes Hanks is both the adversary she had come to admire and the anonymous e-mailer. They’d already fallen in love. Hanks approaches Ryan and says, “Don’t cry, Shopgirl (her AOL ID). Don’t cry.” Ryan replies, “I wanted it to be you. I wanted



I confess. Despite my perception of myself as a tough guy – co-captain of my university football team – my eyes misted at the end of the 1998 Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan movie, You’ve Got Mail. In the film, Hanks’ new big box Barnes and Noble-like book store in NYC’s Manhattan had put Meg Ryan’s small West Side children’s book store out of business.

During the movie, Hanks anonymously exchanges AOL e-mails with Ryan as a new friend and gradually an admirer. Despite her resentment of the known Hanks for his callous business style, she came to like him for his helpful advice during constant coincidental meetings in neighborhood stores, paralleling similar advice of the anonymous e-mailer – also from the same Hanks. At the movie’s conclusion when the two anonymous e-mailers agree to meet in Central Park, to Ryan’s surprise Hanks appears as the anonymous e-mailer at the agreed location. At first she is confused why he’s there, too. Then she realizes Hanks is both the adversary she had come to admire and the anonymous e-mailer. They’d already fallen in love. Hanks approaches Ryan and says, “Don’t cry, Shopgirl (her AOL ID). Don’t cry.” Ryan replies, “I wanted it to be you. I wanted it to be you so badly.” They embrace. End of movie.

What does this have to do with Performance Management? You might be surprised by the number and frequency of unsolicited e-mails I receive with questions of all sorts from individuals ranging from university students to internal project champions to executives. I feel like I have pen-pals you established relationships with as a kid during Summer camp.

A common theme of questions inquire about how to get buy-in and support to pursue a Performance Management methodology quest, like to construct strategy maps, balanced scorecards, customer profitability and value management analysis, or driver-based budgeting and rolling financial forecasts. These solutions are not compulsory or the law, like Sarbannes-Oxley, but are optional. So persuasion is needed.

Like Hanks and Ryan in the movie, I am clueless who these people writing me are, except perhaps for a few clues. My answer, however, never wavers. To overcome the natural and expected resistance to change of co-workers, 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 and perpetuating making decisions on inadequate or flawed data, to overcome defiance and opposition by managers and employees to try something new – and needed for improvement.

It is not easy to be self-critical of your own organization. Further, it is a challenge to identify a coalition of co-workers who feel as compelled as you that adopting Performance Management methodologies is needed. But it must be done. You will need to decide if you are just a follower or a leader. “Don’t cry.” Pursue what you know is needed to make a difference.