Up in the Air

June 22, 2010
56 Views

Did you see the movie Up in the Air starring George Clooney? Those of you who have not seen it probably have heard something about it. It involves a professional with a job who flies in airline jets so much that hotels and airports become his life.

Did you see the movie Up in the Air starring George Clooney? Those of you who have not seen it probably have heard something about it. It involves a professional with a job who flies in airline jets so much that hotels and airports become his life.

There are parts of this movie I relate with. I recently learned that with Delta Airlines I have traveled to the moon and back eight times. In the last 18 months I have visited over 70 international cities. I am not as good looking as George Clooney (who is arguably the Cary Grant of our era). But I did relate to a part of his character in the movie. That involved thinking rationally and always trying to make the best out of unexpected circumstances.

What does this have to do with enterprise performance management or the finance and accounting component of it? There is a connection. Few implementations of performance management methodologies ever go smoothly. There are always some hiccups or worse. For example, some projects run into input data quality and data management obstacles that adversely affect the modeling, calculated results, and output information. Some projects run into under-estimated change management and behavior modification issues including the natural resistance to change in people. Some projects are scoped too widely or narrowly. Some projects are under-funded or the implementers are inexperienced.

What is an organization to do? What would you do? Most organizations over-plan and under-execute. So extensive planning does not guarantee success. There are always unexpected events and surprises.

My favorite implementation approach and practice is to work backwards with the end in mind. This involves imagining and visioning the results after the project is completed. What should it look like? How would the organization behave and make better decisions after the performance management methodology, like a balanced scorecard, is in place? Ask yourself what would be the required steps to get to the projects’ end. What could be the speed bumps and traps? What could go wrong?

Another implementation practice of mine is to begin with rapid prototyping followed by iterative re-modeling. The purpose is to gain accelerated learning with both the design team and the people who will be using the system. The concept is to construct the system at a higher level in a day or two without caring about accuracy or detail. It is like 18 holes of golf on a polo horse. Get to the 18th green, and then you know what it is all about the next round when you get more serious. Make your mistakes early and often, not later when it is too costly or problematic to make changes. (To read more about this, read my article The First Barrier to Performance Management: How Do We Get Started?)

Returning to George Clooney’s character in Up in the Air, another trait he displayed that I relate to is long time periods of solitude. I have a family (including grand children), so I do not long for being away from home and solitude, however periodic doses of time alone to think, ponder and dream of ideas are valuable to consider the possibilities of all angles and flavors of a project. I make a practice to immediately record them as notes or else I may forget some of my ideas.

Also, I try to not always “be digitally on.” This is so that I can be more productive. I routinely shut off my BlackBerry and connection to the Internet. (To read more about my feelings on this, read my blog Texting – Dangerous for Cars and Decision Makers Too. )

Being up in the air can help you when your feet are on the ground. Having time for solitude helps you get your thoughts together and generate ideas. I suggest treating airline flying time, airports, and hotels as being precious time. Use it wisely.

Gary Cokins … and I wrote this at 37,000 feet flying from Amsterdam to Dubai.

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