Urgent vs. Important

Why executive support is so important when it comes to analytics.

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Last Christmas, I bought my whole family a gym membership.  

It has been incredibly interesting to see the bursts of gym usage followed by long stretches of complete non-use.  (My family is not particularly sporty.)  At random points, one or more of us will be motivated to attend.  In the case of my teen boys, this generally has to do with an interest in a girl.  For me, it is usually a run up to some event like a bike trip with friends.  And my husband only goes when I make him. 

What does this have to do with organizational analytic maturity?

Every year, a big-named analyst firm produces a top ten list of things on the CIO’s mind.  For fun, I went ahead and read these reports back about 10 years.  I then went a step further and lined the results up with the stock market (Dow Jones Industrial Average).  (I am not allowed to share the analyst content here.  So, you will have to just believe me or do the reading for yourself.)  Some form of BI or analytics has been in the number one slot most of that time with an obvious exception.  In the two years following the financial crisis, BI & analytics plummeted to the 5th spot on the list.

It is the same problem as the gym!

There is nothing I am going to do at the gym today that is going to make me healthy in the long run.  I need to stick to it and accrue many, many of those days for it to really matter.  Analytics is exactly the same.  It takes an incredible amount of discipline to be an analytic organization.  Individuals need to understand how to think analytically about their work.  Managers need to coach performance using analytics.  And, leaders need to trust the data and the fact that being an analytically mature organization is ‘worth it’.

In both cases, it is “important” but it isn’t “urgent”. 

It is so easy to fall back into old routines or to take the ‘easy’ path.  Because this one decision, this one metric, this one piece of analysis – isn’t going to bring the walls down around us.  But we know, that even seemingly trivial missteps lead to disaster in aggregate.

Going it alone is hard.

An individual can be successful through their own through strength of will.  But in the case of the gym, more often, success is correlated a lot less with the gym equipment and much more with the culture of support surrounding you.  Family support, signing up with a friend, or paying for a personal trainer are much more likely to lead to better results.

Executives are like the personal trainer for analytics.

Great personal trainers maintain their knowledge about their craft, check in on your progress on a regular schedule, provide consistent encouragement and feedback, and patiently coach you to better progressive levels of performance.

Coaching your organization toward analytic maturity

  1. Don’t expect a sudden change
    Just like a fitness plan, the organization isn’t going to change overnight.  Change will be slow and it will plateau stubbornly.

  2. Plan for your needs to evolve
    To get started, a simple solution may work just fine.  However, in order to support an analytically mature organization, you will find that you need much more robust tools.  Changing gyms is a lot easier than changing BI tools.  So, choose wisely at the start with the future in mind.

  3. Make sure that everyone has access to the resources that they need to improve gradually over time.
    Even with the easiest to use systems, people need support.  One obvious need is for ongoing education in a format that allows people to learn as they go.  But another great way to support this is to appoint internal analytic coaches.  People whose job it is to help others learn how to use analytics better and to think about their roles more analytically.

  4. Make sure that everyone is playing from the same rules
    Lifting a 50 pound weight should mean the same thing for me as it does for someone else.  It is critical that the organization has consistency within their data and methods of calculation.  This is a hard problem to solve and requires support of its own.

  5. Offer support and encouragement
    Focus on the long term goal. In the beginning, the concern isn’t whether or not everyone can run a six minute mile.  It is about how they are approaching the problem of getting to that goal.  Focus on the line of thinking and coach others to think analytically.

  6. Stay the course
    Data driven analytically mature companies have been proven to outperform their peers.  Sometimes the investment in analytics won’t seem “worth” it.  It won’t seem urgent.  But like going to the gym every day, it is very important.

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