Anyone who worked in a CI environment knows that no matter how extensive, expensive and mature your Competitive Intelligence activities are and, more importantly, no matter how insightful and actionable your acquired intelligence may be, it is never guaranteed that the intelligence is actually used in the process of strategic planning. The same goes for decision making; it takes more than relevant, actionable intelligence to make sure decisions are taken based upon it. The following article by Kenneth Sawka, managing partner at Outward Insights, clearly describes two ways to improve the impact CI can have on both strategic planning and decision making.
Sawka states that management is reluctant to clearly define what role CI plays in the previously mentioned processes. In my opinion this has to do with the fact that they do not want to have to act on the intelligence that is presented to them. Either they do not fully trust the gathered information or the presented intelligence, or they prefer to set their course based on gut feeling. When you look at it this way, it’s strange that many companies go to great lengths to get extensive Competitive Intelligence activities at the cost of many resources, but at the same time are reluctant to use whatever they find. It seems that many managers still believe that CI should inform them about the general state of the competitive environment, and that it’s totally up to them to decide what’s important enough to incorporate in strategic planning and what’s urgent enough to trigger decision making. Kenneth Sawka puts it a little more bluntly:
Too often, strategic planning is an exercise in reaffirming what is known or comfortable, or what has worked in the past. Similarly, decision implementation is often an exercise in executing what has worked before. In today’s uncertainty, companies are hard-pressed to take new, bold, and decisive action even when all the intelligence “signals” point to the wisdom of pursuing a new course of action.
If you keep this in mind, you may understand a little better why strategic planners and decision makers act the way they act. Since this reluctance to act on CI is not bound to go away all by itself, you need some tools to make sure the intelligence is used in the way it was meant to be used. Fortunately Sawka helps us out with answers as well. Firstly he describes a way to ensure CI is embedded in strategic planning processes:
The successful integration of competitive intelligence into a company’s strategic planning process requires that strategic planning be based on a well-defined framework that clearly defines the role competitive intelligence is expected to play. It doesn’t matter whether the framework is based on popular techniques like scenario planning, is based on ones invented and perfected by your company, or has a particular objective – such as growth – in mind. With a well-defined planning framework, it is easier to define CI’s specific role, and how CI will be considered when developing and implementing the strategy.
Rocket science or not, I believe it is true what he says here. Personally I prefer to talk about processes, rather than a framework. If CI is not embedded in the processes that lead to the company’s strategy, then it is merely another source of information. A useful one, with relevant information, but it can be so much more. Having said that, how do we make sure CI is embedded in these processes? Of course we cannot force the powers that be to embed CI in their processes, but if they don’t do it, CI is basically a waste of money. If they do not agree, you have a challenge altogether. The trick is to convince them of the fact that CI should be one of the main advisors, but not the one to make the final decision. You do not want them to feel like you want to do their jobs. So if you can achieve that the strategic planning process starts with presenting scenario’s based on the outcome of the CI activities, you make sure you are heard in an early stage. Clearly demonstrate the scenarios and emphasize their consequences on the company as a whole. If the company’s strategy was considered in the scope of the CI activities (which almost always is the case), you now offer great insights in the effects of prolonging the current strategic course of the organization versus altering it, as shown in your scenarios. If shown the consequences of not changing the company’s course even though intelligence clearly prescribes a change of plan, reluctance to act upon the intelligence should reduce. By presenting the scenarios and their consequences, you prevent the intelligence to be interpreted to ‘reaffirm what is known or comfortable’ as Sawka puts it.
As mentioned before, Kenneth Sawka also offers a helping hand to make sure decisions are made when intelligence signals ask for it, even when this is (partially) not in line with the long term strategy:
In these cases, it is important for the CI manager to identify an issue champion. This is an individual in a decision-making or leadership role whose corporate function is most impacted by the intelligence. For the issue champion to successfully act on new intelligence, the CI manager must brief him or her on the content of the intelligence, and discuss the implications for the company and for his or her function directly. Sometimes, the prospective issue champion will defer to someone else, or include others in the initial discussion about potential decision options once the intelligence is delivered.
This is of course helpful advice. If you are a CI manager and you need to put pressure on someone to help you do the right thing, why not pick the one that is hurt the most if nothing is changed. He’ll definitely be the one that shouts loudest to get everyone’s attention. But if the person that is hurt the most is also someone who is allowed to make the decisions that you think should be made, it’s even better. Eureka! Of course it’s not always that obvious or easy to find that individual. There’s not a guideline to find these people, nor is there a standard approach to get them on board. Basically, it all comes down to the network the CI manager has. Most likely the people that are affected by your intelligence are among your internal CI customers. So it really helps if you have a good overview of your customers, and their roles and responsibilities. That way you’ll know who to put pressure on when urgent action is required.
Article: Leaping Over the Intelligence – Decision Gap by Kenneth Sawka