Discussing Why not How – Digital Transformation for the CEO at MS Data Insights Summit

I’m delighted that I have been selected to speak at Microsoft Data Insights Summit in Seattle. The topic is Digital Transformation with Power BI for the CEO.

In my session, we will look at essential metrics to measure the business health, and the key metrics that C-level executives find crucial to understand the business – and to look at the Why.

The phrase ‘what gets measured, gets managed‘ is attributed to Peter Drucker. However, it has been used elsewhere e.g. Gordon Bethune, the former CEO of Continental Airlines used it in his 1998 book. It is sometimes stated as if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it, sometimes attributed to Peter Drucker or Lord Kelvin. (sidenote: it is a contraction of Lord Kelvin’s article, and you can find the whole piece here. As a graduate of the University of Glasgow, I’m honoured to mention him here.)


It is usually taken to mean that you need to measure things to improve them. I think it is more subtle that that; I think that it means ‘you measure things that you care about‘.

How does the business know what they care about? It’s all about the Why.

If you were to create a NASA Voyager Golden Record to indicate what numbers describe your business, what would they be?

NASA Voyager Golden Record
NASA/JPL Voyager ‘Golden Record’

By NASA/JPL – The Sounds of Earth Record Cover, Public Domain, Link

What’s different about this session? There are plenty of ‘how to’ guides on Power BI on the internet – in fact, the community has produced a ton of insightful and interesting ways to use Power BI. There is a lot of literature on beginner guides, custom visuals, reporting and so on.

What’s different about the Digital Transformation with Power BI for the CEO session is that we will discuss the Why as well as the How. I’m going to help you to create your Golden Record to describe your business, using Power BI.

Anyone can talk about How – how to write a report, how to create custom visuals and so on.

Executives don’t listen to the How. They want to know Why. They hire people to know how. They aren’t listening to the ‘how’ because it probably isn’t the best use of their time. They hire people to know how to do ‘how’ and ‘what’.

Good businesses know what they want to do and how they do it.

Great businesses move past that. They ask the more important question – WHY?

Why it is useful to them?

Why it will change their business?

Why will Power BI help to make their businesses more inventive, pioneering and successful than others?

Why are they able to repeat their success again and again? What metrics really matter in a business?

Inspirational leaders such as Steve Jobs and Martin Luther King started with Why. Listening is a crucial skill. I have started to ask customers what has drawn them to me – why did I win the business? I need constructive feedback so I can continue to win in the future, and learn from my blind spots where I don’t do so well. If you are a consultant, you should try it. It’s humbling, of course, but it means I learn from their perspectives. Since I work for myself, I don’t get peer reviews. When I asked one customer, she thought very carefully and said that they had had a consultant turn up for the day, and he was pretty arrogant, and he leaned heavily on his technical prowess. As she watched him walk out of the door, he has a spring in his step, which told her that he believed that he had got the work. That in itself, she said, told me that he had completely misread them all. He had been so fixated on bludgeoning them with his technical prowess that he wasn’t really listening. They didn’t get back to him – which is a pity, because he would not have learned anything, really. On the other hand, she said, if I had listened and understood, ‘left the ego at the front door’ and she felt that I would embed well with their teams and I was unlikely to inflame existing politics within different teams, whereas the first consultant would simply exacerbate existing divisions. The ‘slogan’ she gave to me (at my request) was was ‘making an impact’ – she felt I would make an impact – and I’ve adopted that as my mental mantra ever since. You know who you are – and thank you for all your faith in me!

Back to the story. Was he more technical than me? Depends how you measure it; I don’t know. However, you can be the most technical person in the world but if people are walking away from you, then you won’t deliver anything. It’s more than just How.

There will be plenty of sessions that tell you ‘how’ and that’s fine – they aren’t necessarily speaking to the C-level suite audience. Jen’s session will help to give you that language, the language of Why, so that you can communicate past the How and onto the Why.

You might give the Executive a brilliant expose on the technical innards of Power BI – but that doesn’t really give them what they need. It doesn’t show that you really understand their business and what they are trying to achieve; fundamentally that means you can’t be confident that you are going to help them to get there.

A C-suite person will know how best to to drive their business and attach a dollar value to their time – and that probably isn’t spending time on writing reports using any technology. That’s where the BI professional comes in – to free the C-level suite from writing their own reports.

Focusing on the Why is what will drive the business forward. Then, it will drive focus, accountability, simplicity and transparency – all essential ingredients for driving the organisation to success.

See you there! Let’s help you to help your organisation to create your organisation’s Golden Record to describe your business, using Power BI.

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