The Blame Game

May 16, 2011
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When our CEO first received and saw the bad news, she immediately questioned the CFO if there was an accounting error. Nope. The CFO reported that sales were down 2% but the bottom line tanked at both the product gross profit margin line and it worsened further at the operating profit level due to over-budget distribution, selling, and marketing expenses.

When our CEO first received and saw the bad news, she immediately questioned the CFO if there was an accounting error. Nope. The CFO reported that sales were down 2% but the bottom line tanked at both the product gross profit margin line and it worsened further at the operating profit level due to over-budget distribution, selling, and marketing expenses.

The CEO called our Operations VP into her office and asked what happened. Our Operations VP pointed his finger at the excessive distribution expenses – specifically all the emergency premium shipments.

The CEO called our materials manager into her office for an explanation. He observed that production was missing many customer order ship due dates requiring costly overnight and premium shipping expenses to lessen the damage to our customers’ satisfaction and loyalty. He pointed his finger at the production manager.

The CEO called our production manager into her office for an explanation. He noted that the sales department’s sales order forecasts missed the actual by a mile and this has created costly chaos in what and when to make products.

The CEO called our Sales VP into her office for an explanation. The Sales VP complained the sales forecasting software was limited and pointed a finger at our chief information officer (CIO).

The CEO called our CIO into her office for an explanation. The CIO said that our marketing department had not seen high value in forecasting software because it did not appear in the strategic plan. So he bought the cheapest forecasting software.

The CEO called our VP of Strategic Planning into her office for an explanation. He pointed out the bonus pay incentive measurements for the marketing department were imbalanced with little weight on customer service and mostly on how many sales brochures and e-mails were sent to customers and prospects without differentiating the future potential of high versus low customer value.

The CEO called our marketing manager into her office for an explanation. Our marketing manager pointed her finger at the CFO’s financial controller complaining that the accounting department refused to reform their cost accounting to adopt activity based costing (ABC) to allow understanding true product costs and margins. Further, she complained that our controller had no interest in calculating how the expenses below the gross margin line accurately trace to channels and customers to produce customer profitability reports for analysis and insights.

The CEO called the financial controller into her office for an explanation. Our controller said our company’s external auditor, a highly respected CPA, worried that with ABC math there would be different numbers reported between the external financial reports (for valuation) and the internal managerial accounting system (for decisions to create value). The controller also noted that any cost-to-serve expenses below the product gross margin line are not capitalized as they are for products, so there is no reason to allocate them to customers.    

The CEO phoned our auditing firm for an explanation. The audit firm partner denied making any such comments and advised our CEO that he felt our organization was fearful and resistant to change and we did not possess a culture for metrics and business analytics. The auditor pointed his finger at our Human Resources VP for failing to advocate progressive enterprise performance measurement and management – from the CEO’s top desk to the desktop of every employee. This would involve adopting strategy maps, a balanced scorecard and dashboards.

The CEO called our Human Resources VP into her office for an explanation. Our HR manager pointed his finger at our CEO and said, “Leadership is not the same thing as management. Managers cope with complexity while leaders cope with change. Leadership must exhibit vision and inspiration. Leadership sets the strategic direction, and analytics-based enterprise performance management systems, which we do not have, then translate the executive team’s strategy into operations and the thousands of daily decisions made by employees and managers.”

The CEO thanked the HR VP for the lecture and terminated him.

A Lesson Learned

What is the lesson? Of course one can observe the irony that this circle of blame began and ended with the CEO. But my intended message is that this circle could have been broken several times by applying enterprise performance management methodologies embedded with analytics.

A culture for business analytics, metrics, and performance management solutions has become essential for long-term sustained competitiveness and organizational transformation.