“Sooner being better than perfect” a model for our times.

There’s a tremendous  post on social media from Tan Suee Chieh , president of the IFOA which outlines the principles that enabled Louis Gerstner to transform IBM.

Gerstner Principles

• Manage by principle, not process
• Market driven (or membership driven)
• Look for people who solve problems, not hide behind the staff, sack the politicians
• Reduce hierarchy and committees: create new leadership teams
• Lead change from the top
• Thinking and acting with urgency
• Accountability must replace looking good
• Set priorities, with sooner being better than perfect

The approach has been adopted by COVID-19 actuaries right down to the distribution of their expert content through this blog. I have to admit that some of my posting may not have been perfect, but the posting has always been quick!

The COVID-19 Actuarial Response Group’s capacity to get information onto people’s browsers in digestible format and in real time is a model for us all, and especially for those driving the stately coach – the pensions dashboard.

The pension dashboard is making stately progress


Sooner better than perfect

Perhaps the Pension Dashboard Program could adopt the Gerstner Principles so as to speed up the delivery of sorely needed information to people looking to see their pension rights in one place.

The current debate over the Dashboard Available Point seems skewed towards perfect and away from “sooner”, but this risks the dashboard delivering so late as to be obsolete before it arrives. The process of getting there seems to have overtaken the principles that have inspired so many over the past five years to give freely of their time to make this project happen.

The dispersed governance structures put in place at the outset of the project have meant that the dashboard is being driven by committees not from the top. The need for consensus has meant for painfully slow process on simple matters such as the data templates that have pre-occupied the PDP for most of 2020 and meant another year has slipped by with little tangible process.

Though no one doubts that Chris Curry is doing an admirable job, he is steering the dashboard project in addition to running the PPI and participating in numerous other projects. The dashboard has therefore got limited leadership and this has led to long periods of the year where it seems nothing is happening.

And far from being sacked, the politicians have had a heyday with the dashboard. The debates over private v public dashboards, the hand-wringing over potential security issues and the seeming incapacity to get the “grunt” done till we have mandation through the creation of a Pension Schemes Act, is leading to slower decision making and a dilution of accountability. Who is driving the pace of the dashboard transformation, perhaps not who but what – COVID-19 seems to its pacemaker.


Set priorities!

Of course there are risks in delivering any great project, I am sure there were many within IBM who considered the pace of change introduced by Gerstner (discussed in his great book ‘Who Says Elephants can Dance?”) in the way that many commentators look at Fintechs such as Pension Bee.

I was on a call yesterday with several such Fintechs and the frustration with the delivery of Open Pensions as part of the Open Finance Initiative was tangible. The leadership that is being shown by those wanting to give people access to their data in digestible format was in stark contrast to the attitudes we see from many on the supply side of that data who are not “thinking or acting with urgency”, who are hiding behind staff and failing to set priorities so we see action sooner.

There needs to be a reset at the PDP which allows it to adopt the Gerstner principles and free itself from the hierarchies of decision making that are hampering its progress. The Competition and Markets Authority’s approach to cutting the Gordian knot that was preventing open banking is precisely what is needed now. We need the spirit and principles of Gerstner , not the creation of more bureaucracy.

Now is the time to be fast not thoughtful, we have thought for five years, now we should prioritize the rapidity of execution.

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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1 Response to “Sooner being better than perfect” a model for our times.

  1. Martin T says:

    The dashboard seems to be caught in the trap set throughout the ages, that the best is the enemy of the good.

    Wikipedia states that Robert Watson-Watt, who developed early warning radar in Britain to counter the rapid growth of the Luftwaffe, propounded a “cult of the imperfect”, which he stated as “Give them the third best to go on with; the second best comes too late, the best never comes.”

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