Data Strategy: Inspire Change – Part IV

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We’ve come quite some distance since the first post (Data Strategy: Bring the People) of our series in which we have looked at some potential reasons for friction found in data-driven projects. After that, we did a brief detour looking at aspects of company culture (Data Strategy: It’s a Cultural Thing) and then at what type of leaders we want when embarking on a journey to become data-driven (Data Strategy: Leadership and Data). With this post I want to wrap up this short introduction on how we try to help people and companies change their way of making decisions from one mainly based on intuition and bias to one that is informed, derivative and fact (read: data) based. And change is the keyword here. I want to introduce an approach to change that I found very inspiring and give an idea of how one can complete one of the more challenging steps in facilitating change: rally the people. This will then close the circle with where we set out from…

Leading Change

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Change Management is a bit of a sore topic for many. This is maybe due to change processes often being perceived as a huge, costly, time-consuming effort. It is also often penned down as one of the mainstays of big consulting firms who turn a LOT of money into a LOT of paper. As with almost everything it is – in my opinion – a question of approach though.

I – for example – like the approach by John Kotter, a Harvard Business School professor, who says you should not manage change but you need to LEAD change. He has released several books and papers (interesting read, just a google away) on the topic, one of them being Leading Change. In this book he describes eight aspects of successful change:

  1. Create a Sense of Urgency
  2. Form a Leading Coalition
  3. Form a Strategic Vision
  4. Enlist a Volunteer Army
  5. Enable Action
  6. Produce Quick Wins
  7. Sustain Momentum
  8. Institute Change

It goes from creating a sense of urgency – so creating a persuading, compelling circumstance for change – all the way to institute change which is anchoring change in the company culture. 

If we look at what we have read in the last three articles of this series and look at the list above, we can see that we are already in a good way. We have a sense of urgency, we have our data-driven leadership as a leading coalition, we have our data strategy and therefore a vision. So what we need next is a volunteer army. We need our people to embrace change towards becoming data literate to create a truly data-driven workforce. The remaining points are all based on having these initial few followers helping to establish that becoming data-driven is worth it. Enabling action by providing time and resources, developing a use case funnel for proof of concepts and quick wins and keeping up the pace… all this is based on the ability to find these core, first followers. Easily said, but how and where to start? Conscription is not an option…

Enlisting a Volunteer Army

For a start, I like to point to a principle – many of you will probably know – that was developed by Everett Rogers in 1962. In my view, it‘s a fundamental law, that is also often cited by Simon Sinek, in his bestselling book Start with Why. What the law says is that innovation, be it novel technology, new products, but also new activities and especially ideas follow a bell-shaped curve over time. 

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Innovations are first bought into by Innovators, people on the cutting edge. They are the first ones through the door, they‘ve heard about it – no one knows where – and they want it. They see something in it. Next are the Early Adopters. A bit over 13% of all adopters who like shiny new stuff but buy into it a little later than innovators. This is because Early Adopters need to see that they‘re not buying rubbish but they don‘t need a track record of the THING to be successful. They project their own idea of value onto it. Price, effort and obstacles do not matter. Next are the Early and Late Majorities. Those 68% look at what works and if they deem it useful they buy-in. They need this reference group made up of Innovators and Early Adopters to show them the way. And then there are the Laggards. There always are. 

OK… Thanks… Captain Obvious

This might be general knowledge, so what does this mean for our data-driven organization and volunteer army then? Well, this volunteer army is made up of our Innovators and Early Adopters. These are the people that intrinsically want to use technology, they want to be in the trenches when it comes to using new stuff and testing its limits against their imagination. They love gadgets, they booked – maybe even drove for – Uber while everyone was afraid to get in a strangers car. These people exist in all age groups, on all income levels at every position in your organization. They bring their own ideas and value proposition to the table and they will ultimately generate your quick wins, the results that are required to convince your majorities – the rest of your workforce – to buy into your (data-)strategy! 

So the real challenge isn‘t to convince your entire workforce that data literacy is important, but to find these innovators and early adopters in your ranks, who either are evangelists themselves or will help the evangelists in your leading coalition to drive the point home. What you do not want, however – at least at this stage – are cynics, people who are scared or intimidated and deadweight… not supposed to sound too negative – what I mean are the ones who sign up to everything, because they cannot be bothered with their day to day job and hey, maybe there are free coffee and donuts at this new thing… To find the equivalent of a person who camps outside an Apple store to buy an expensive, unproven gadget in limited supply NOW. You need to create similar circumstances of scarcity, challenge, and – well – difficulty.

If it’s a challenge they want

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Innovators and Early Adopters will go to lengths to be part of something new. So we should make it a bit of a challenge to participate and to weed out participants of low conviction and prove who is really up for going the extra mile. This doesn’t mean you have to go Million-Dollar-Question on these people… A simple example of a challenge could be something like creating an application process. Imagine asking all your people: “Who wants to join an endeavor to create a brave, new future?” Many hands will show. Tell them: Fill out this form, many hands will be lowered. What‘s left after you tell them to write a letter of motivation for why they want to participate, those are the ones you want. Alternatively, you could hold your induction meeting after work or on a weekend. You could have a multi-stage selection process. It doesn’t really matter as long as there is some sort of effort involved, you will get those Innovators and Early Adopters to sign up and build your volunteer army. The army that will help bring these POCs to life, show the real benefits of being data-driven and with that convince their peers, that it is worth embracing a data-driven future. 

Wrapping Up

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So where does this leave us? Putting it all together we paint a picture where we have key aspects that will help people to understand how becoming data-driven will have a huge impact on the quality of their day to day life professionally – and frankly in private as well. 

To nurture these ideas we need to have a plan, a data strategy that is embedded in and enabled by a fitting company culture and driven by evangelical leaders. If we bring these together we will be using a smart approach to be able to go the distance, and bring the people.

What is your experience? How do you promote data literacy in your (or your customer’s) organization? How do you recruit the first followers? I’d be happy for feedback as well as ideas.

Final notes

For those of you who have read these articles: Thank you! I had a lot of fun writing these and from the feedback, I have gotten I was able to inspire some of you. I’m planning to keep writing. If there is something you would like to have some insight into, leave me a message. Otherwise as always: happy for feedback and connecting with all of you. Stay safe!

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