At the end of the 1990s I worked at a paper mill and the idea of a data-driven organisation did not exist back then. However, the concept of a drive for improvement certainly did exist, although it wasn’t based on data but rather on intuition and feeling. We knew that paper production varied, but we didn’t know why. In order to increase paper production, we therefore tested our way ahead, trying out various alternatives and conducting trials instead of working in a data-driven way.
“But why were you against working in a fact-based or data-based way?” someone might ask. The answer is: we weren’t. It’s just that at the paper mill at that time, there was no data available for analysis.
Today, 20 years later, data is available in an entirely different way. So much so that we can see how one organisation after the next falls into line behind the mantra “We are/we will become a data-driven organisation”. Working in the very heart of this process today, as organisations transition from a trial-based approach to becoming data-driven, is an inspiring privilege. Experiences from not working in a data-driven way also reinforce this feeling as memories of all the mistakes that could have been avoided with the help of data come flooding back.
After working as a consultant for more than 10 years in both the private and public sectors, in both large and small organisations, I can clearly see a recurring pattern.
The biggest challenges facing organisations are usually not the technical complexities of shifting from being trial-based to becoming data-driven.
Instead, the biggest challenges appear to be willingness to become data-driven; or perhaps unwillingness – depending on how you look at it.
When the data says you haven’t delivered what you promised to deliver.
When the data says that you must tell your colleague that she or he is not performing to expectations.
When the data says that your customers do not like you.
When the data says that your employees do not like you.
When the data s-c-r-e-a-m-s out in capital letters “YOU ARE RUBBISH!”…
… When any of this happens, well, the result is that your willingness to work data-driven is very, very, very minimal.
Or as Jack Nicholson would have put it:
“You want the truth?”
“You can’t handle the truth!”
In order to work in a data-driven way, one basic principle is therefore to ensure that you have the ability to look the truth straight in the eye.
Only then is your organisation ready to let the data tell you how things really are.
Only then is your organisation ready to accept that data reveals the truth.
Only then is your organisation ready to work in a data-driven way.
So how do we set about creating an organisation that can actually handle “The Truth”?
Of course there is no “quick-fix” or simple one-step solution. However, most researchers in this area agree that people with a high degree of self-awareness tend to find it easier to accept criticism or what may sometimes come in the form of an unpleasant truth. People with a high degree of self-awareness are characterised by a solid foundation, they have their feet firmly on the ground. For this kind of person, data that reveals shortcomings does not knock them off their feet, nor do such people see this data as a reason to shut their eyes to “The Truth”. People with a high degree of self-awareness are less likely to have a problem when data that might cast a shadow on their self-esteem says one thing, because their willingness to work data-driven says something else.
I would therefore say that a high degree of self-awareness is a basic ingredient for an organisation to be able to work data-driven.
Start your change process!
Gather together your team and reflect on the following.
– Which truths do you feel your organisation is ignoring?
– Which of these truths does your organisation ignore because they are unpleasant truths?
– What do you feel is needed for your organisation to be able to work data-driven no matter what the data reveals?
It is useful to bring together different types of roles in your organisation and create a think-tank/workshop where you work jointly to spotlight various challenges and try to take a step back and examine your processes objectively, from the “outside”.
If necessary, bring in external help to facilitate this kind of workshop, where tried and tested tools are used to create an environment which sets the foundation for an organisation that can improve its ability to work data-driven regardless of what the data reveals.
Do you have experience of managers who do not want to accept insights because the data does not show what the managers had hoped for? Or are you curious and want to find out more about how your organisation can increase its degree of self-awareness when combined with change guidance aimed at promoting a more data-driven work approach? If so, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.
About the Author
For the past 14 years Alexander has worked to help organisations develop their decision-making and to support them in their improvement processes. Alexander, who has a Master’s degree in Statistics & Analysis and several years’ experience teaching Leadership Studies at the Royal Institute of Technology, works as a Senior Management Consultant for Capgemini Insights & Data. In Alexander’s ideal world, the Eurovision Song Contest would last 52 weeks of the year, Swedish singer and TV host Christer Björkman would be President, and musical key changes would be written into the Swedish constitution as a human right. People familiar with the DISC personality assessment tool would probably categorise Alexander as very “yellow”.