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Profiles in Performance: Q&A with Howard Dresner

A leading business intelligence and performance management guru maps out his "Performance Culture Maturity Model."

Howard Dresner

On a four-level ladder starting at "chaos" and reaching "a performance-driven culture realized," most organizations are stuck on the second rung, says consultant and author Howard Dresner. In this extended interview, the former Gartner analyst describes the six dimensions and four levels of maturity described in his upcoming book, Profiles in Performance: Business Intelligence Journeys and the Roadmap for Change.

Judging by the description, I take your new book to be a collection of interesting case studies with the unifying theme of "establishing the needed conditions for success." What are those needed conditions?

I started off writing the book thinking I was going to write a sequel to my first book about best practices of performance management. In some of the early discussions with some of the candidate companies, I began to realize that the missing element that determines success or failure really boils down to the notion of culture and whether they had a suitable culture to succeed with either business intelligence or performance management. The book is really not about technology per se -- although there are a couple of elements in there that are significant or relevant to technology, having to do with information flows. It really has to do with the culture of the organization.

Is that what's described by your "Performance Culture Maturity Model"?

That came out of some of the early conversations with these organizations. I provided the structure, which has six dimensions and four levels of achievement. But in some of the early conversations, I realized that there was something going on that was really valuable and important. I used that as the lens and the filter for selecting the case studies.

Before we get to some examples, let's talk about what's needed in the culture.

Culture is really about individuals, the groups of individuals, their belief systems and how they interact and behave -- what they really believe and why they're doing what they're doing. That really determines whether or not the technology is going to be successful.

I'll describe the six major dimensions. Two of them are strategic, two of them are operational in nature and two of them are technical. The first one is alignment with the mission as a cultural tenet. In other words, it's about people who really believe in what they're doing. The organizations I profile -- and there are only four of these case studies -- are absolutely religious about what they are doing. They are there for all the right reasons. One of them is Cleveland Clinic. You walk in that place and you're sorry you didn't go to medical school; you just want to work there and be a doctor. It's just an extraordinary place. Another one is KQED in San Francisco. These people are on a mission from God.

So the first dimension is alignment with the mission. That's clearly culture. Another one is transparency and accountability. If you're aligned with the mission and believe in what you're doing, next you have to share information, and everybody has to hold themselves and the organization accountable. The information may come from computer systems or it may not. The point is that it's open and transparent. If everyone is open it's really a good thing. The problem is that in most organizations, everybody wants everyone else to be open and they want to stay closed.

Another dimension is being able to resolve conflicts. Nobody ever talks about that in the context of things like business intelligence and performance management. How do you guys resolve conflict?

Is it more a matter of how you resolve conflicts or whether you resolve them?

In most organizations stuff gets swept under the rug. You get a lot of passive-aggressive behavior. You go into a meeting and everybody is nodding their head. You walk out and they go off and do whatever they wanted to do anyway.

A performance-directed culture is able to air these conflicts and resolve them in a positive way. You get the issues out there. The organizations I profile in the book do that. Some of their meetings get pretty hairy, but stuff gets resolved as opposed to people going off and treating things with benign neglect and doing whatever they want.

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