What Companies Can Do Today to Ensure Better Performance Tomorrow
When President Barack Obama became the first U.S. president to name a chief performance officer (CPO) for the U.S. government, the obvious question was, “What does a CPO do?”
The answer lies with the man who popularized the term: Anthony Politano. A senior practice director in Oracle Consulting Services, Politano published his book, Chief Performance Officer: Measuring What Matters, Managing What Can Be Measured (iUniverse), in 2003 and since then has written dozens of articles on the topic. He coined the term 10 years ago while working on his PhD in information management at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey.
“It was almost an evangelical thing,” says Politano, who heads up the national practice in commercial consulting for Oracle enterprise performance management. “I used to say, ‘Wake up and smell the performance.’ I was always involved with business intelligence, but then I started thinking about the convergence that could happen between business intelligence, data warehousing, budgeting, planning and forecasting, and predictive modeling.”
Politano describes the role of a CPO as centered on taking ownership of and responsibility for performance within an organization. Often it’s not just one person but rather a group or office that performs the role. The CPO examines performance, finds the inefficiencies and mismanagement, and creates a road map to fix any problems. In addition, because the CPO is responsible for performance at the C-level, he or she must align actions with the organization’s goals and strategies and provide the right communication channels to make performance the DNA of the organization.
These duties and others, says Politano, are included in the “six Cs”: collect, consolidate, and condense performance-related data; communicate the results; collaborate with others; and control and govern the process.
“It’s critical to understand past performance in order to model and predict possible future performance,” says Politano. “The CPO has to be accountable—not just for the results but for understanding and managing the cause and effect to get to those results.”
Politano believes that organizations can benefit from having a CPO role, especially in today’s economic climate. “Many businesses are facing major break points in the norm of doing business,” says Politano. “In times like this, they need to change and get better focused on performance.”
Politano also says the rate of change in business today has accelerated. “Business models have to change a lot faster, and people have to know a lot more about what’s going to happen,” says Politano. “A CPO is somebody who gives an organization a heads-up on the future.”
In organizations that implement such a role, the CPO becomes the single point of focus for performance. “The CEO or president of an organization, whether in the public or private sector, benefits from having one contact for performance rather than having to reach into 10 different parts of the organization to get information on or accountability for performance,” says Politano.
For his part, Politano was heartened to see President Obama give performance such a central role by naming the first federal CPO, Jeffrey Zients, who Obama said “will work to streamline processes, cut costs, and find best practices throughout our government.”
“My first thought was, ‘Gosh, I’m like a proud parent—I’ve given birth to an idea,’” Politano says. He believes the public recognition of performance sends a clear message to leaders in government and business alike. “Performance is important, and we need to pay attention to it,” he adds. “It’s not just a side benefit anymore.”