Data Data Driven Is More About People Than People Realize

To listen to the hype, you’d think “Data Driven” was better than sliced bread. And it just might be. But, becoming data driven can also reveal…

…embarrassing inefficiencies
…profit-killing departmental infighting
…deep-seated employee resistance to change, from the bottom all the way up to the top.

THE REALITY: Becoming data driven is more about people than people realize. I know. I’ve spent decades introducing new technologies to companies, making them more innovative and more efficient. Real change comes with bruised egos, realigned politics and the occasional defection.

Textbook Example

Here’s an example from my own work:

A CEO tasked her VP of Operations with defining and implementing her company’s data driven strategy.  But when the data revealed some uncomfortable results, the VP faced resistance – including from the very CEO who had championed the move to data driven.  The most intractable problem was the revelation that the sales team compensation model worked against good customer service and the company’s overall mission and bottom line.  But the CEO, who came from sales, wouldn’t budge.

Mark, the VP, got agreement with from the CEO to engage me to come in and bridge the gap between what the data said and what entrenched interests wanted.  I meet with various stakeholders to understand each executive’s perception of what “Data Driven” meant.  As is common — in large part because of the all the hype — they had expected (or really, just hoped) the data would reveal low-cost, high-profit insights that only required a tweak here or an adjustment there.   The reality is that becoming data driven can often put dollar amounts on the pro’s and con’s of long-standing internal conflicts, bringing those conflicts to the surface.

My recommendation to Mark and the CEO was an executive team workshop to discuss the reality of what becoming data driven meant — that is, to frame the current issue as just the first in a long series of choices between being gut-driven or data-driven.  After some frank but long-overdue internal discussions, and with their eyes now open to the tension that data could uncover, everyone agreed it was clear where the competition was heading and where they needed to go.  Specifically, they agreed to a data-driven revamping of the sales and account management compensation structure.  And more generally, they agreed to double down on becoming more data-driven, with marketing, employee retention and product design as the next areas of focus.

Don’t Be Fooled: Data Driven Is About Culture.  It’s About People

As I’ve written about for specific departments, and speak about to audiences generally, significant competitive spoils go to those who recognize that culture is often the competitive differentiator when it comes to becoming a data driven company.  I mean, anyone can stockpile heaps of data and run algorithms on it. Becoming data driven will certainly bruise some egos, and likely cause a few defections. But the alternative is to let competitors absorb the discomfort you couldn’t and be able to execute on the insights you discovered but couldn’t stomach.