Brutal Gang of Facts

It has been an interesting year for me – a learning year. To be honest I started off last year full of confidence in what I knew and how I planned to impact clients in a positive manner. Since then it has been an interesting ride as I have survived an onslaught of a gang of brutal facts.

It is said, one of the greatest tragedies in life is the murder of a beautiful theory by a gang of brutal facts. We truly do hold strong and fast to our way of thinking – human beings do not like change a whole lot. But, while the resulting growth is beautiful, the attack is intensely painful. My mentor once taught me companies fit into one of 3 levels of performance – 1) Doing more with less, 2) Doing things differently and 3) Doing different things. So lets look at the brutal gang of facts through the perspective of the first level of performance.

I find it hard to believe that Jamie Dimon is a genius – although I think a lot of his capabilities. But, surely if there is a billion dollars worth of fat laying around then someone else had to have noticed it. It is probably over-the-top to assume it was intentionally ignored but what is probably more accurate is the existence of a beautiful theory held onto tightly by a great many people. Someone was doing the best they could with what they had. Someone was making the very best decisions available to them at that point in time. And one would probably have had a hell of a fight on their hands to contradict those theories.

But in walks “the gang” to upset the apple-cart. The “more” part of more with less is not exactly what we imagined it would be. The changes we thought we needed were not necessarily the “pill” we asked the good doctor to prescribe. The “facts” present themselves as contradictory to our way of thinking as light to darkness.

If we allow this light in, the growth we experience and the lessons we learn can and will far exceed those old trivial goals of progress originally intended. Moreover, a new paradigm of performance can be achieved and what we may have thought impossible at one time, is suddenly in our reach.

Bring it on!


In the year 2000, then Bank One posted $511 million in net losses as they hired Jamie Dimon to take over the reigns. Over the next 6 months Jamie Dimon cut $500 million in costs ($1 billion in his first year) in what was called “waste reduction efforts”. Can you imagine the comments when he announced his plan of action? I am sure he was called chicken-little, over-reacting and the other packaged responses typically used by those who lack action. Dimon pushed profit and loss reporting and analysis down through the organization to increase the understanding and change the management approach at all levels. He changed compensation structures to more appropriately align leadership decision-making with results. He walked away from non-profitable customers and even told long-time sacred cows to pay for their own Wall Street Journal. Many said he was the wrong guy for the job and was a prolific deal maker but that was the limitation of his talent. Boy were they wrong (remember, this is the guy that proactively and independently gave himself a 93% pay cut when he accepted the bailout funds). Hindsight is most interesting if we chose to view the past with objective lenses.

Stage 1: Define the strategy. Dimon could have asked for a 6 month analysis of where they could cut the “fat” or “waste”. Dimon could have sent out RFP’s to consulting companies for 6 months deciding which consulting company would execute a project to find the “fat” or “waste”. He could have then followed that up with a series of SWOT analysis on alternatives surrounding “how” to cut the fat. It could have taken 2 years. He knew there was inefficiency. He knew the inefficiency was fat and he knew he could get rid of it.  Not everyone agreed – but he knew it.  Go after the fat that you know exist and simply get rid of it.  The developer that is counter-productive.  The great developer that is ambivalent to estimation accuracy.  The process rich with churn and low in productivity.  If you know where it is – make a plan to go get it.

Stage 2:  Just Do It!  Imagine a “waste reduction” that will save the organization $10 thousand dollars a day.  Now, urgency ought not be confused with recklessness or panic.  But, delaying that gain by 2 weeks just cost the company $100 thousand dollars – the cost of indecision.  Was the risk mitigated by the analysis equivalent to $100 thousand dollar exposure?  Fear and hope are not proper leadership strategies and if you know it – just do it.

Some people see inefficiencies as a part of their core vision.  They are just wired that way.  It reminds me of the Matrix – they just “see it”.  Obviously, all aspects of a process and impacts must be taken into proper consideration in order to mitigate risk.  But sometimes “fat” or “waste” is relatively obvious.  In consulting, did we not call that “low hanging fruit”?

The last time I checked, I think Gartner still indicates only 40% of all code actually makes it to production; only 40% of every IT dollar spent actually realizes ROI.  There is enough inherent “waste” in our business – go after the “low hanging fruit” and increase your own individual numbers.

Elephant Gun Meeting

Working in the lawn this weekend I purchased some of the new (or at least new to me) instant, grow anywhere grass … patch … thingy. I have seen these things grow grass on concrete (marketing – GOT ME!). I literally laughed out loud when I remembered sitting in a meeting years and years ago – but more about that later.

I thought of the absolutely rich environment that must exist in that bag. The potential is stored in the bag and maintained such that when you pour the contents – anywhere – it grows. Wow! Perfect for someone like me who is – horticulturally challenged.

Now back to the meeting. This company had a time honored tradition of ideas presented to a committee in a meeting ironically titled the “Elephant Gun Meeting”. Conceptually, one would present their ideas and the committee would put the idea through the paces and if it – survived the shooting – they would pursue the idea. I am a metrics guy so I asked the percentage of presentations moved through to next steps. The answer was unknown but one member remembered an idea that “made it through” a couple of years before that meeting (I really don’t make this stuff up).

What kind of nutrients are stored in your bag? Can your ideas grow on concrete? Is your environment that rich with ideas and risk taking that ideas simply grow in all departments and in all circumstances? We all know the shades and sunny spots that occur in business; the rain and floods that come. The huge, seemingly immovable competitors that take aim at your market share. The new, quick and nimble competitors that crop up like weeds in your front yard. The M&A activity that makes many strategies a moving target. There are always many reasons to squelch and shot ideas full of holes.

The is only one reason your ideas are a rich green with deep roots that grow all over – because you create that kind of environment.

Back to the lawn …