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The Myth Of The C-Suite And "The Art Of War"

Did you really read this book?

Almost all major corporations, banks, and law firms have a person or team that does research for employees. We used to be called librarians, then shed the "ssshhh" stereotype to become Information Professionals. For the sake of simplicity, I'll use IP.

First, a short list what the average IP does that applies here, then I'll get back to Sun Tzu and your organization:

We use fee-based databases to find company, industry, and many other types of information. There are hundreds of database providers specializing in everything from offshore oil rigs to European private company data. These databases cost us quite a bit of money and are the basis of many decisions.

We excel at using the free internet for government, trade group and other sources of data and reports. Free doesn't mean anyone with Google can find high-quality, credible information. We provide accurate information so others can effectively do their jobs.

We usually work for people across the entire organization, all the teams, departments, and most employee levels.

If you read the sentences in bold again and know "The Art of War," you'll see where this is going. Not only can we find GE's S&P rating or the number of Class 8 trucks registered in the US, we have something of a pulse on the organization. We help with what Master Sun called the weather and the terrain, even a bit about the way, discipline and leadership. IPs are not usually born leaders or corporate warriors. We are intelligent, observant workers with an almost religious devotion to minutiae. We don't expect anyone else to check three sources to make sure the number of airports in the UK is correct. We do expect others to make sure someone did before using that number in a presentation or to make business decisions.

What info pros from the Fortune 500 down have learned is that too many companies are doing a poor job of Principle One in the book alleged to have been read by every executive on the planet. The unglamorous work of information gathering that goes first is as vital as it is dull. Lucky for you, IPs revel in gathering. We hunt until we either find what you need or find out why it is not available. Unfortunately, not enough of your employees understand or value Sun Tzu's first principle to find their way. Lest you think I have a superiority complex, please know this is the only one I am really good at. The next twelve are all yours.

There are two reasons for this missing first step. First is an unfathomable lack of good training. Too many employees don't even know what they are asking for and are hoping an IP can figure it out for them. We expect this of new people, but know the weak links after the first few months. If employees aren't taught the basics of research and how it leads to your bottom line, they will never value it. Let's use this fictional example: a consulting firm like Deloitte publishes a report on the Internet. SNL Kagan, a grossly expensive database, writes up a blurb about this report and emails it to their subscribers, with a link to the free report in the article. The IP is going to get five requests for the Deloitte report (which is available just by clicking had anyone read the SNL blurb) and another five requests for a password to SNL (which they have, or they would not have received the email in the first place). You can substitute any industry, database or IP in any organization. Your troops don't even know they have the weather and terrain available to them. Basic, costly information that you provide is not being utilized. We wonder how many decisions are made with incomplete information.

Without good training, there is no compass. Many years ago, a second-year analyst came to us for help finishing up her project. She had spent six full months using Google to compile a list of private equity funds and their holdings. When we showed her the two databases we already used for private equity information, she almost cried. Six months down the tubes because the company did not value training. No one attended our optional training sessions because management didn't value it. This analyst was not even taught to think there might be a better, more effective way of doing this. This should scare you.

The second problem is an obvious lack of initiative on the part of employees that are supposed to be making money for your company. We get email requests from junior staff who have simply hit "Forward" on a message from their managers, where half the email has nothing to do with us. In the SNL example above, they do not even click a link. Intellectual curiosity seems a thing of the past. "Tell me what to do and how to do it" is all too common. Without the map, why go anywhere? If IPs notice this, so do others. What else is being wasted? I'm sure anyone in IT can write the same article about tech resources.

A wake-up call

Six years into the aftermath of the financial crisis, the junior guys in the previous examples are now supervising the junior staff coming in today. The holdouts from better days are disgusted, doing three jobs themselves because it's easier. IPs furrow their brows because when we're the smartest guys in the room on any topic, everyone should be terrified. This is not a knock to IPs! We didn't become bankers, lawyers or CEOs on purpose. We went to library school. "The Art of War" isn't our how-to manual.

What should be great companies are held back by poorly trained, unmotivated people at all levels. Whether your company is spending $1,000 on databases or $20,000,000, the value is not being maximized. Don't blame the employees or get rid of the databases.

Don't do another reorg, realignment, strategic review, or whatever euphemism is used for "uh oh." It will fail. No one knows the weather or terrain. "The way, leadership and discipline," still principle one, are feigned to maintain a paycheck, while your better troops are simultaneously planning their own exits and professing allegiance. Worse, unmotivated troops are blindly following whoever is in charge.

It's time to spend money on a massive basic training program, then ensure your leaders make it a priority because the C-suite values it.

For the sake of your info pros, ask for a dozen copies of "The Art of War" or dust off your own. Start on page one, no skipping to battles. We don't want to work for war-driven lunatics, just see our co-workers and employers succeed.

Author Kristie Malkasian has been an Info Pro/Librarian in financial services for over 18 years.