The emerging role of business architects in 2017

Bruce Sheridan
Posted: 07/20/2017

The emerging role of business architects in 2017 will be to encourage organizations to “be good” versus “look good.”  I recently worked with one of the top 10 executives of a Fortune 100 organization.  After several months, I recognized a pattern.  Monthly, the leader and direct reports presented a PowerPoint to the CEO and their direct reports.  As time passed, I began to realize they worked very hard to create a roughly 75-page report that did not look the same from month to month.  I mean worked very hard, 5 to 10 senior executives working 10-hour days for 6 or 7 days to create the 75-page presentation.  As for the presentation’s content, if you went back two or three months, you may not find a shred of similarity between the presentations.  I pressed for a consistent strategy, corresponding key measures of success and ongoing governance to hold leaders accountable for delivering against the strategy.  I never did succeed in moving them off the “look good” versus “be good” approach.  We amicably parted ways.

I grew up in New York City.  In my youth, I heard the phrase many times, “Fake it ‘til you make it.”  Intentionally or unintentionally, some organizations have taken on the “Fake it ‘til you make it” mantra.  In May of 2015, reported that the median tenure of a Fortune 500 CEO is 4.9 years.  After 35 years of being a business architect, I am beginning to wonder if looking good versus being good works over time?  The organization I previously mentioned is making a lot of money and their stock price keeps climbing.  Some of my fellow business architects would say, “Yeah, but how much more money could they have made if they focused their resources effectively?”   I don’t know the answer to the question.  I assume it would be more.  In my opinion, when an organization is making a lot of money, it is easier to survive with a “look good” philosophy.  If a “look good” organization wants to optimize its performance by architecting the business to perform at its best, it is not going to happen until the CEO and their leadership team drive the shift to a “being good” organization.

Maybe a better way to look at it is, at what point does an organization embrace Business Architecture?  Do you embrace it when you are making a lot of money or should you wait until the business starts slipping?  Do you wait to be blindsided by regulation, competition, technology, loss of a critical employee?  Wait until the organization begins losing money or all together collapses?  Wait until you are under a regulatory or criminal investigation? 

It was late morning on Friday, October 16, when Elizabeth Holmes realized that she had no other choice. She finally had to address her employees at Theranos, the blood-testing start-up that she had founded as a 19-year-old Stanford dropout, which was now valued at some $9 billion. Two days earlier, a damning report published in The Wall Street Journal had alleged that the company was, in effect, a sham—that its vaunted core technology was actually faulty and that Theranos administered almost all of its blood tests using competitors’ equipment.”

Nick Bilton, Vanity Fair, October 2016

Theranos is an overkill “look good” example, but nonetheless a disturbing example.

When I was a Quality Leader at Florida Power and Light (FPL), we were holding a qualify forum with about 300 leaders in the room.  Our guest was the CEO of a Japanese company.  Upon learning the guest had a 125-year plan for his company, one of FPL’s leaders asked a question.  They asked, “No disrespect, but at your age, why do you care about 125 years from now?”  The Japanese CEO and his team, along with the interpreters, were feverishly huddling for what seemed like eternity.  Finally, a nervous interpreter leaned into the microphone and said, “No disrespect, but we can’t understand that as a leader of Florida Power and Light why you don’t care.”  The room full of 300 FPL leaders made a collective sigh like a crowd at a sporting event when a competitor is knocked to the ground.  After an awkward pause, the meeting continued.  Does our prevalent short-term perspective drive organizations to a “looking good” philosophy?

One way I have noticed organizations working hard to look good versus be good is through the measurements they choose to report.  Key Performance Indicators that shed a negative light are often dropped from the reporting.  Measurements that make management look good are encouraged.  In my experience, some of the metrics chosen are not sound.  One of the tools/methodologies I have employed over my career is called Measurement System Analysis (MSA).  MSA looks at how the measurement is constructed, the source of the data, what is included, what is excluded, is the measurement calibrated, is it accurate, is it repeatable, etc.  Many of the metrics I have seen reported would not pass an MSA.  Yet, they are reported as hard, 100% factual information.  While a Master Black Belt at GE, another employee asked Jack Welch a question about one of his direct reports leaving the organization.  The question was to try to determine if the executive told Jack Welch about the shortcomings in their business or if the leader was not aware of the deception taking place.  Jack’s response was brilliant.  He said, “There are two possibilities.  The leader knew it was going on and did not tell me or the leader was not aware it was going on.  The latter is worse.”  Business Architects need to ensure organizations are reporting sound measurements.

Choosing a “looking good” strategy over “being good” can lead some to call into question the ethics of an organization and the competence of leadership.  “If it comes down to your ethics vs a job, choose ethics.  You can always find another job.,” Sallie Krawcheck.  “Being good” allows leaders, employees and shareholders/investors to have an honest and true assessment of the organization’s capability.  One day while attending Georgia Tech, I did not want to participate in Track and Field practice.  My Head Coach, Buddy Fowlkes, asked me to come up to his office.  We sat down.  Buddy said, “If you miss one day of practice, you know it.  If you miss two days of practice, your competitors know it.  If you miss three days of practice, the crowd knows it.  What do you want to do?”   I went to the locker room and suited up for the practice.   Imagine if organizations had to compete within rigid rules, the starting line and finish line were well defined and the measurement system recorded everyone accurately to thousandths of a second.  You can “look good” prior to the race, but the clock is the true measurement.  Realistically, it would be difficult to get organizations to agree to being measured as rigidly as a Track and Field event.  As a Business Architect, you can choose to accurately measure and report your organization’s performance, identify strategic gaps you want to close and align your organization to close the gaps.

The speed of change today is unprecedented.  For many organizations, the pressure to make more money is greater than any other priority.  The pressure to make money or get fired can lead to a short-term, can’t fail mentality and a “look good” philosophy.  Can Business Architects persuade leaders to accurately report on customer loyalty, attracting and retaining great employees, delivering flawless products and services, optimizing costs, meeting customers’ timelines, investing in and deploying the latest technology, etc.?  The emerging role of Business Architects in 2017 will be to encourage organizations to shift their culture from “looking good” to “being good.”


Bruce Sheridan
Posted: 07/20/2017


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