Of sled dogs and CFOs at the start of IBM Finance Forum
Delaney Turner 270003RQ8K Delaney.Turner@ca.ibm.com | | Tags:  business_analytics ibmsoftware finance
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The Yukon Quest kicked off last Saturday and upon hearing the news I immediately thought of another important kick off – namely, IBM Finance Forum 2011, our annual event series for Finance professionals that begins today in San Jose.
What? You don’t see the connection?
Let me explain.
The Yukon Quest is a 1,000-mile sled race between Fairbanks, Alaska and Whitehorse, Yukon. Physically and mentally grueling for driver and dog alike, the Quest traverses some of the harshest, coldest and loneliest of terrains. Not for the faint of heart, only the most serious mushers need apply.
Yes, "mushers" is the right word.
For 25 years, the Quest was a fixture in the calendar of one Frank Turner (no relation). Turner raced in the first Quest, won in 1995 and set a course record that stood for more than 12 years. Now retired from racing, Turner runs Muktuk Adventures, where from his home off the grid he leads less taxing one-day excursions, conducts team-building exercises and conducts leadership seminars.
If you have three hours to spare on a Sunday afternoon (as I did last fall), Turner will gladly give you a tour of his facilities, where you can meet more than 120 dogs and snack on home made brownies in his living room as he recounts tales of endurance and lessons for success.
An important transformation
There’s been a transformation in sled dog racing, Turner says. However fixed in the popular imagination, the crack of the whip has given way to a more enlightened, more analytical team-building approach. Now, he says, the best mushers build their teams over months of rigorous training and careful evaluation to learn each dog’s disposition, strengths and weaknesses. Some dogs excel in dry snow, some like the slush. Some dogs love running into the wind, others prefer to draft.
These days it’s not the best dogs that win, Turner says, but the best team. It’s not how hard you can push your dogs, it’s how well you can manage them to keep them motivated and happy. To that end, mushers must pay careful attention to each dog’s physical condition and keep precise records of each dog’s injuries and overall health throughout the race.
"Keenly and continually attuned" to their surroundings
Further, Turner explains that the best mushers are keenly and continually attuned to their race surroundings. One of his anecdotes involves a previous Quest winner (a former Green Beret) who rearranged his dogs in response to the sound of the snow coming off his sled rails. Why? Different sound, different snow.
What does all this have to do with Finance?
I see two connections. First, the transformation story. As David Axson will recount at more than 20 events across North America (Speakers and event details for European events are forthcoming) high-performing Finance departments are pursuing their own transformation away from pure cost-cutting toward a more agile, analytical and risk-aware mindset. Both transformations have been shown to drive better outcomes for everyone involved.
Anticipate and shape outcomes
The second (and for me more interesting) connection is the increasing need to anticipate and shape outcomes in your favor. Much like the most successful mushers, top-performing Finance departments don't explore analytics simply when there's a crisis. Instead, they make acting on insight a daily discipline that keeps them continually attuned to changes in their markets. Further, they build teams with the skills to anticipate and model different scenarios. They predict changes, understand their consequences, and act quickly to reallocate resources to maintain momentum, profitability and competitive advantage. They’re what the most recent IBM CFO Study refers to as Value Integrators and you’ll learn how to become one at IBM Finance Forum 2011.
Change your perspective
Neither sled dog racing nor Finance is for the faint of heart. The Yukon Quest is the pinnacle of the former, attracting the most experienced and most ambitious mushers. Whether you’re a CFO, or hoping to become one, you’ll be doing yourself a favor by attending one of our events. You may not yet be the lead dog on your team, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take steps now to change the view. Mush!
Get ready for IBM Finance Forum 2011