I distinctly remember the first time I interviewed the CEO of a large multinational company. An imposing figure in an even more imposing old fashioned office, he answered all my questions crisply and precisely. Finally to end the interview I asked him how he acquires and processes information. He looked at me for a few seconds, smiled and said, ‘That young man is information that I cannot divulge. Showing how I do that is equal to baring my brains to the world. My competitors would destroy me if they knew.” With that, he rose and courteously showed me out. It was then that I realized the way great CEOs function – silent, unknown and secret. Information to them is kept within and processed, never revealed.
What information does a CEO require to make his organization run as efficiently as possible? When I put the question to my colleagues, most of them said, “all and every bit of information”. In today’s age of big data, anti-counterfeiting, supply chain visibility, and smartly-designed customer marketing platforms, most of us think that more the information available, better it is for running an organization. However, now as the CEO of my company, I know that flooding me with raw data reduces my ability to increase company performance.
While there is no doubt that big data is very powerful, it is just that too much data does not help CEOs in fulfilling their core responsibilities. If there is a very high volume of data sets and you have machines to make automated decisions based on this data, big data is very helpful. However, running an organization is very different. In an organization, humans make the decisions and most of the relevant data is anecdotal and difficult to quantify.
Top managers and leaders need to be well informed. For instance, the information related to tracking customers must be understood as an activity and not a form of passivity. Making sense of information requires know-how, skills, energy, and time. Information is only useful when it can bring together images, facts, mental representations and the ability to interpret them and build a representation. The information thus becomes a complex process of digital engagement that encompasses two stages – the acquisition of facts and data; and putting together the facts and data. Both steps are important. Information is the integration of all data and facts.
According to one of the best management theorists, James G. March, an enterprise comprises of groups and individualities striving to meet varied goals. Because of this, information cannot be simplistic or innocent. Thus, track and trace ‘small data’ is far more important and useful than ‘big data’ for a CEO. So, what are the top three types of information that every CEO need and must have? Let us take a look.
Information that is Normalized
Take a peek at any company meeting and you will find managers and functional leaders eager to bombard the Chief with data. Graphs and charts are made and presented at every meeting. However, irrespective of how knowledgeable and smart the CEO is, it is unrealistic to think that the CEO can absorb and monitor all the traceability solutions and functional data from every department. With no real context, this humongous pile of data does not coalesce into useful information.
A better way would be to reverse the method. The CEO establishes a clear goal for the organization and breaks it down to various success criteria. The managers and functional leaders should communicate their data based on this criterion. This way the ‘big data’ number crunching can be done at the department level and the CEO is delivered normalized information based on the organization’s priority and goals.
Information that is Predictive
Data by definition is historical and a CEO is supposed to set the future direction for the organization and business. While data informs you about what has taken place, what is needed is the knowledge of what is going to happen. For instance, of the simplest ways to gather information about customer engagement marketing is by getting an answer to a very basic and simple question – ‘will the goals be achieved on time?’ Managers and functional leaders need to collate the data for their department in the context of the organization’s priority and goals and based on that data make an informed forecast to the CEO.
Information from the entire Organization
If we look at classic business successes; a large number of warranty engagement solutions will reveal that it was due to effective communication systems that allowed the problem known to someone in the organization, reach the decision-makers in time. Way back at the beginning of the last century, it was easier to look down at the workshop floor or assembly line and monitor production. Now, it is near impossible to see issues that a knowledge worker sees, unless you are looking over his shoulder.
It thus becomes important for a CEO to create a system of collecting data from the entire organization. That, however, is not an easy task. A CEO could try walking around, although that would be possible in a very limited way. Regular internal surveys and suggestion boxes have their limitations due to either hard to interpret responses or low participation. What is required is predictive normalized information from the entire organization.
The Bottom Line
More than anything else, the information will help the CEO predict the future of his organization. However, successful CEOs do not use the information to make decisions – rather, they convert information to knowledge and inoculate and formulate it in the organization. This process invents the future of the organization.
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