By Cliff Kalb, ACI Faculty

I’ve been fortunate to have served as both a consumer and producer of intelligence over many years in corporate life. I was lucky to have helped start and manage a CI function at a leading global pharmaceutical firm that has been successfully growing and contributing to sound business decisions now for almost thirty years. When I reflect on what drives long term success in a corporate intelligence function, it always seems to circle back to the people, the way they think and behave, and their ability to engage with decision makers around tough business decisions, often offering a unique perspective. In their book “The Manager’s Guide to Competitive Intelligence”, McGonagle and Vella reviewed a set of characteristics linked to a successful business intelligence mindset:

To Make a Difference, BI Pros Should be “Sufficiently Annoying”

  • Never accept a task without knowing the end goal
  • Ask, “What decision are you trying to make?”
  • Represent the external view
  • Consistent look over the horizon
  • Be nosy and persistent
  • Know where decisions are being made, and show up
  • Continually develop source networks
  • Serve as a human router
  • Teach others to fend for themselves
  • Challenge the status quo?

Some might say that these guidelines are risky, particularly to the ability to remain employed.   Yet , I would argue that if you enter the game with a deep understanding of your industry, your company and the environment in which it competes, these are elements of an intelligence mindset and behaviors that the best corporate leaders openly seek in their intelligence personnel, particularly in the manager of the function. How often do we observe corporate C-Suite executives who surround themselves with like-minded lieutenants, who “drink the Kool Aid” and always remain politically correct?

Successful intelligence professionals need to view their company from the outside, think counter strategy, and challenge the conventional wisdom. It takes courage of conviction to be the “bearer of bad news,” and to offer alternatives and recommendations that may significantly differ from leadership’s traditional view of the path forward.   But it’s just that unique perspective, that alternative path, that disruptive idea offered by intelligence professionals that gets leaders deeply engaged around tough business decisions in open, honest discussion of options that will shape the future. Furthermore, when a business leader can depend on their intelligence team to offer well researched, unique, objective, independent perspectives that stimulate lateral thinking, they will gain a permanent seat at the decision making table over the long term.

Do you think and behave this way? What are the pragmatic consequences of adopting this approach to intelligence work, pro and con? How will it impact your career? Welcome your thoughts…