Archives April 2021

Analytics and Management

In Physics, Power is defined as the transfer of energy

Simon Sinek – Leaders eat last

For me, I first stumbled onto the work of Simon Sinek when something appeared on a timeline, either Linkedin or Facebook – I forget which – and his video about business metrics and team development from the perspective of the US Navy SEALs. At the core, it is about the imbalance between how we measure staff performance and the value those staff bring to the team. I remember a similar example from the US Hit show Suits – Harold Gunderson was not the highest performer; however, he enabled those around him to be better. The lesson taught by Suits and in this video Simon Sinek are the same; Great Teams are made by people working together in harmony. A well-built team will have a “worth” greater than their individuals can achieve. In other words, as they come together and bond and trust each other more and are led not told they do better. All I know is I hope I’m not the A$$hole!

In our companies now, we focus on arbitrary metrics and then evaluate our employees against those. I started to become aware that this wasn’t “right” a few years ago. For me, it was really a result of starting to step up and do more and more analytics as a result of Power BI. Senior Management would want a metric to be made, and that had to be done, so surprise, surprise, they did it. I had many arguments, and I am almost certain annoyed many people when I was required to challenge that the metric was being made. After discovering Simon Sinek, I suddenly found I was not alone.

When you are a “doer”, you are responsible for doing the process; stacking shelves, selling stocks, building houses, or anything. Why is the assumption that a Manager, Director, Vice President, President, C-level Executive is also somehow responsible for the doing? That’s why we have top-level metrics that are focusing on the doing. The truth is those are easy things to measure when you compare them to what better metrics for management would be. After all, “Sales per month” is so easy compared to “Team members inspired”.

So Power, what does that mean to you? There is a belief that Power is seniority; the more senior you are, the more power you clearly have, but can physics be wrong or is it that these words have different meanings? The more I see, the more I read, and the more companies I speak to and work with for Geordie Consulting, that isn’t the case. The buzz words now are Innovation and Excellence. The problem is innovation can only come when you can fail as for excellence, well that must be unachievable, or it would be a plateau. We must all aspire to Excellence but must also acknowledge that true excellence is an aspiration with no end. That leaves Innovation; what do I mean you have to allow failure to innovate? For much of my career, I have worked within the IT side of businesses, helping with Processes around Incident Management (break/fix), Request Fulfilment, Problem Management and Change Management. I do have a real love for Problem Management, but it is something businesses struggle to implement because failure is not an option. Problem Management is about looking for repeating failures and then defining a fix them, evaluating the cost to fix against the cost per instance of failure and then, when the economics are correct, implement a lasting fix. The challenge is that the “fix” may not be a fix at all or may break something else that you did not know about. All too often, it paralyses businesses. How can senior management be given guarantees that the “Fix” they are about to spend money on will fix the problem? Those of you who are embracing Continual Improvement will have no doubt faced the same issue the roots are, after all, very similar. So what is the gap? The issue here is the metrics. Fixing an issue within the process does not necessarily mean an increase in sales, it may see a decrease in costs, but that is often extremely difficult to quantify ahead of time. So the “Sales per month” metrics are not affected, so why look at it? Good Problem Management (and Continual Improvement) doctrine evaluates quickly, and if you think you’re in the wrong role, back to the original. The benefit is that you now know more about the influences on your process. However, when you have a business where someone knows their job is at risk if their “fix” fails, will they innovate a solution, or will it be a safe, low risk, low-value committee based solution?

In Chapter 8 of Starship Troopers – Robert A. Heinlein (1959) – the hero (if you read the book, you will find out he is definitely not Casper Van Dien) considers the meaning of responsibility. An example of a puppy is used, when you toilet train a puppy, what do you do? Put them down if they have an accident, or do you have a teaching moment? Too often in business, our analytics and measures look at what are termed “Business Objectives”. Business Objectives are an endpoint; They are achieved by having empowered, trusting teams working together for a common goal.

I founded Geordie Consulting because businesses deserve better, and as a company delivering Data Analytics Solutions into companies, we need to support a higher standard for all. We hold ourselves to account for the solutions we deliver. We make sure they are not just dropped into your environment but rather that they are transitioned into your environment so your teams can start to take them over from day one. The goal of Geordie Consulting is to encourage a better data culture within businesses because as your data culture matures so, you will find your overall business improves. The Democratisation of Data sounds like a scary thing for many business leaders, but transparency is never something to be feared; rather, with it, people start to appreciate each other and the talents of those around them. From there, they become more willing to make suggestions for improvement and growth. The best thing is an amazing Data Culture has minimal costs. If this resonates with you, why not book a meeting with one of our team, we will work with you to deliver your data culture.

Analytics and Abstraction

It is easy to be fooled by the quote and think that, of course, we would not possibly think that the deaths of millions could be less important than the death of one. However, turn on any news service, open any paper, and you will see this to be the case. At the time of writing, Myanmar is going through significant turmoil, but how real is it to you and me?

Stalin knew that context was everything; when people have a personal connection to an event or subject, they “feel” it more. When they do not have any connection, it becomes something they can read about and move on.

Think about these two stories; “There’s been a train crash, and 20 people have died.” or “There’s been a train crash and my wife, Mary, was killed.” Which story has more of an emotional connection with you?

So what does this have to do with Analytics?

The process of Analysis is an abstraction; it adds “distance” between the realities of a situation and the consumer. Ask yourself how many metrics you have in your organisation that management looks at but don’t support the activities. Almost every day in my dealings with companies, I hear a similar story “[Insert name here] cherry picks work and gets all the praise”. This is the impact of abstractions. The metrics get between the management layers and the truth, even worse, just like Stalin, an air gap is forming, isolating the business from its Analytics. The value of analytics comes not just when it is aligned to the goals, but now we want Analytics also to be able to direct and steer our businesses. If we do not actively seek to make the changes to stop our Analytics from becoming completely abstract, we risk making Analytics our Stalin.

Power BI is all about the democratisation of data; in fact, for me, that was one of the first terms I learnt in my Power BI journey (thanks Rob Collie), the act of breaking down the data silos and bringing in a whole new way of working is transformative, but we must make sure it isn’t another “Storming the Winter Palace”, the nature of disruptive technology is that people can use it not just for good, but also for evil. Whatever your views are on Communism, I think we can all agree that the “vision” of 1917 was dead by the time Stalin took over.

Strategies

To avoid abstractions, you need to make sure you have encouraged a culture of cross-pollination of ideas not just across your departments but vertically within them. Are the leaders of your organisation increasingly isolating themselves and using metrics to feed and support their views, or are they opening doors and encouraging collaboration and open discussion? The enemy of abstraction is the personal touch. If you consider the Train Crash again, would you be more supportive of changing a section of the track to make it safer? Would the personal impact have a greater impact on you? It should do if we have made a personal connection. We may not be there yet.

In his 2007 study, “Putting a face to a Name”, Adam Grant found that personal investment from teams makes them perform better. They provided teams of fundraisers in an outbound call centre with some motivation (there was also an unmotivated control. Researchers introduced group One to the people their fundraising would benefit, and A manager read the other a story about how the fundraising helped someone. Amazingly there was a difference, the people who personally met someone who benefited saw a near 150% increase in their weekly fundraising amount compared to the control group (no changes) and the group whom managers only told about the benefits. Adam repeated the study with Lifeguards and found that those given the more personal side about the impact of their lifesaving work were more attentive.

The lesson is clear people respond better to personally investing in something, so if you want your metrics to go in the right direction, you need to think about how to break down the abstraction. Think to yourself, “How can I put a face to this”. After all, we are all human beings, and we all like to feel connected to people and those around us.

Conclusion

So Analysis, if left unchecked, will lead to abstraction, and this is where the danger begins. The take-home message is clearly “Don’t be like Stalin”, encourage a culture of openness and support and develop the ideas within your organisation. To finish, 3M has a culture of fostering intelligence and ideas. In 1968 Spencer Silver made a mistake while developing an extra-strong adhesive; the test sample he came up with was just not strong. In fact, it was just plain weak. In many companies, Spencer may have been fired, reprimanded at the very least, admonished. At 3M, he wrote up his failure, and he shared it with his colleagues. Two years later, Arthur Fry was having problems with bookmarks in Choral Music books when he came across Spencer’s adhesive. From those humble beginnings, Post It Notes were born.

Analytics and Data Literacy

The role of our Consultancy is to help companies make the most of their data. The foundation of this is Data Literacy. Without Data Literacy, you cannot have a deep Data Culture and transition to become a Data-Driven Business without tackling Data Literacy’s challenge.

Data Literacy means helping people to understand what data means. If you ask yourself honestly, “How much of our Analytics are understood by the whole audience?” It is not uncommon in a Siloed Data Culture for few, if any, outside the producing team/department/division. This is a major challenge for developing your business, and moving to a data-focused business, you have to face this head-on and address this issue.

How does Data Literacy help our business?

Data Literacy is the central component in any data strategy, but why? Firstly, data is complicated, and often those looking at the analysis results are not involved in the tasks being analysed. The impact of this is incredibly damaging and is one that is extremely difficult for many to take in.

Metrics are toxic – Teams will make their metrics but miss the goal

No one wants to admit that their carefully crafted metrics damage their company or, even worse than the “Recommended” metrics from [insert framework or organisations here], are undermining the very things they are supposed to deliver. To explain, ask yourself (and comment below), does your organisation chase its metrics? The purpose of metrics is to measure the successful execution of the process; however, it is always possible to meet your metrics without following your process. A classic often seen in the real world is the chasing of SLA’s. Our teams will do everything they can to avoid an SLA breach, but once something has breached, does the priority drop as completing it now will harm the team! So we leave breached items until we are forced to deal with them or until the start of a new cycle when we have a chance to “balance the books” as it were.

Whoever agreed on the metric and implemented it no doubt had the best of intentions. Of course, the people working like this are following the example set to them back their colleagues and lower management levels. However, the problem is that the metric has become the goal rather than a proof of “good” execution. So how does Data Literacy help with this? The answer is simple Data Literacy mandates that EVERYONE has access to the packs and is allowed to make recommendations or suggestions. Are our SLA’s unachievable, or is there something else that is misaligned that adds to the pressure in a key area that leads to ethical fades? It is fundamentally unethical to pursue the metrics as we should be chasing the perfection of process execution.

For example, in the past, I have had numerous conversations about Password Resets and how important/critical they should be, adding how we can make them properly secure to protect the organisation. I have worked with many organisation that felt these were absolutely business-critical and should be treated with the same laser focus as a major outage. I have known businesses adopt the “Well, why didn’t you register with the self-service tools” mentality and almost inject some customer pain into the situation (these are deliberately extreme). What is your view, and how should we build the execution steps to them evaluate the SLA? In the first company where Password Resets need to be done within an hour, what happens if you set up a challenge/response style of user validation to get a password reset. The customer fails, is the fall-back position to seek written (email) approval from the person’s line manager to reset the password? How realistic is it to achieve that and get written confirmation within an hour? In our other company to put pressure on the teams responsible for doing the password resets customers will exaggerate the importance of their need, to get a quicker response “I need to have this done for [insert Senior Management name here] in the next hour and I am unable to because your system has locked me out”. Both options have led to ethical lapses. Answers below again, how would you best tackle your password reset process and success/failure reporting?

Once everyone is involved and the metrics are transparent, these lapses in ethics become apparent quickly. As humans are fundamentally ethical, we can only correct these issues by making them accountable through data literacy. If everyone understands what is being reported up and why they can more readily get involved in helping prevent people from being put in a position where they feel they have to act unethically. If you start to take your metrics and present them to the whole business and request feedback, you will find that your business challenges are surfaced and can then be addressed.

Conclusion

Business Transformation through transparency is incredibly painful for many of those involved. They have to give up many of the controls they have previously relied on to enforce their ways but remember the illusion of control that is provided may reap short term benefits. If you want your business to exist in terms beyond this Quarter or the next Quarter, you need to stop and think about how we can continue to grow and develop our processes. The excuse that you shouldn’t burden those junior to you with the realities of their business is a falsehood.

In 1950’s Japan, a radical concept evolved – Kaizen Principals – these went on to become the foundation of the Agile Methodology, but at the base level of both is the idea that small changes will gradually improve an organisations processes. These small changes do not always directly make things better, in fact. It is expected that a number of them will turn out to be based on a flawed assumption or incomplete data, so you need to stop and mark that as an invalid option rapidly; this “failure” is still seen as a success because more information is now known about the process and the real drivers of it. A traditional business chasing the metrics will be more likely to see failure as a failure and seek to blame and punish instead of acknowledging and moving forward.

Data Literacy shines a light on your data and makes everyone aware of what the metrics are supposed to be driving. You can then empower them to support the process better and evolve your success criteria.

Trust is a two way street, trust your employees and show them they can trust you. Data Literacy will provide that common vocabulary.

Ross – Director of Business Intelligence