Friday, August 12, 2011

The Specialist Disadvantage

A recent LinkedIn discussion group was talking about companies adopting the use of Analytics. The gist of the original discussion thread was a lot of firms only ask for reports, and what would it take for them to have a more analytic culture or mindset?
There are several facets to address with this question.
First, any specialist, be it an engineer, a financier, an accountant, a HR rep, has a tendency to view the company, its problems and its opportunities, from their own specialist perspective. A finance person might, for example, have a tendency to believe that if we get the capital investment and ROIC metrics correct the company will be fine, all the other issues, such as operations, strategy, etc. will somehow be resolved along with that or are secondary to begin with.
This comes with the territory of being a specialist - things are viewed through that paradigm. It’s kind of like the same song running through your head that you can’t seem to shake all day.
The problem is that the company is a combination of all these specialties. Over time, the importance of each one relative to the others will wax and wane. The company is a holistic enterprise, it cannot do without any of its elements. Items from each specialty are important and need to be thought about.
So the answer to the blog’s original question from this standpoint is “the company takes into account the needs of all specialties, and embarking on this mindset would upset our holistic balance”.
Second, every activity has a benefit that accrues at a cost. As specialists, we may attribute higher value to the benefits than the rest of the company, and therefore believe that things are cost effective when they are not – from a holistic viewpoint.
So it could very well be that the answer to the blog’s original questions is “we do not derive enough benefit to do it”, even though it may be that specialty’s pet raison d’etre.
As finance people, we need to be aware of the dangers and bias inherent in our specialist role and seek to overcome that to the extent we can in order to achieve a holistic vision of the company.
I would love to hear your thoughts about the Specialist Disadvantage or your stories on this topic if you have them.
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  1. Hi David,

    I worked at one company where this was the norm. Competing interests kept shuffling priorities around and a lack of the overall cohesiveness collectively crippled the company.

    Nice post!

  2. Maddie,

    Thank you for the comments!

    There is a bit of an irony there, isn't there?

    Overall lack of cohesiveness vs. collectively cripple - the lack of collective interest leads to a cohesive (i.e.collective) result!

    A sad irony nonetheless, and frustrating for people living in it.

    Thanks again!

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