Data shapes

Facts, feelings and finding your “sweet spot”

In my recent blog I highlighted reasons why and how C-suite leaders should make communication more of what I will call a team sport, as opposed to a spectator sport. The same can be said about data use and encouraging your teams to build muscle for data-mining to make more effective decisions. But surprisingly, senior leaders confess that it’s not as common as you might think. 

As a writer, years of working side by side with MBA grads and campaign managers have nurtured my need for data as their partner on change management strategy and communication toolkits.  I want data points before I set strategy in motion. Then why do I often find resistance getting actionable data? Recently, Deloitte published survey results in the Wall Street Journal revealing that the vast majority of companies are not using data insights as consistently as they should be.  The finding? Company culture can be a detractor for adopting more data-driven mindsets to make strategic decisions. And like all things culture-related, executives are the catalyst for change. 

I find this lack of adoption startling (I know, you may assume journalism grads are who we are because we can’t hack the analytical rigor of b-school!) You may be surprised to find that your CCO is just as passionate about metrics and hard data as your CFO.

As a strategic communications advisor, I often find myself on an island seeking data and facts to help clients identify what is most relevant, essential and important. Those kernels of truth often rest with the audience you so desperately seek to connect with.  What do you know about your customers?  your employees? We have all been there: making hasty decisions and implementing band-aid solutions out of a sense of urgency, only to find results were intangible or worse, nil. Why are you not mining and analyzing the info you have at your disposal? Why is it so hard to get what you need?

Deloitte’s survey revealed that less than 4 out of 10 executives say their companies are “insights-driven” defined as “consistently analyzing and using data in their decision-making.”  Only 10% report their companies are mature in their evidence-based decision practices and 60% say “they are working on it.”  Organizational silos, lack of trust with the data they have and flimsy infrastructure (ownership of data-driven tasks) are to blame. 

The answer seems simple on the surface: demonstrate how adopting a data-driven mindset is one of several tools in your strategic plan, hire the right talent to analyze what you have, define and communicate expectations for collaboration, and get to work.   Ah, but here again, company culture may be the enemy.  

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” said Peter Drucker.  Overcoming cultural challenges is one of the most difficult activities for any C-suite.  CEOs, CHROs and CFOs can share leadership responsibility for an internal cultural evolution to embrace data by putting accountability measures in place and role modeling this practice. The most natural way to ease the transition is to conduct pulse checks, for example, evaluate the “stickiness” of your cultural value with a brief survey.  Values-based decisions backed up by data are most effective–it helps keep everyone honest!

And it should be no surprise that your CCO and CHRO can be partners in leadership accountability, the standards-keepers for the team.  It’s not enough to simply publish a new directive to use data, based on data—you must ensure your employees understand why these measures are now in place so they can get on board and act in your best interests.  This is where the traditional tools of pulse checks, town hall meetings with feedback mechanisms, combined with your mobile communications platform, can incite dialogue by broadcasting and collecting employee sentiment. You should measure adoption and quickly respond with reinforcement activities if you notice lack of behavior change.

The next time you are surveyed and asked if you are leading an “insights-driven company,” the results will be more optimistic if you do the following:

  1. Identify your cultural barriers.   What is impeding the sharing of data within your teams? Who is standing in the way?  Do employees see the big picture and see themselves as part of the solution? Then when you have those answers, become more transparent with employees when you find answers hidden in the data.  Demonstrate that the numbers have spoken.
  2. Have the courage to adopt a sustainable data-driven approach.  Put a stake in the ground making 2020 the year that your teams learn what data are relevant and essential, how to share data through secure, password-protected shared drives and what the process looks like to make strategic decisions together.
  3. Awareness and involvement speed up the process of change.  Make employees partners in your data journey.  Share the facts and engage them in your process and findings.  Show them that your most important decisions have evolved from analysis, perhaps a deep understanding of your financial position, the psychographics of your target customers, a survey of the competitive landscape or a forecast of the future.