If Data is King and Context is queen then Culture is the Throne

The King

In the information economy we are in, it is clear that data is essential to all organizations if they want to get ahead, grow, and compete in a dynamic and transparent market.

As a result, companies developed the telemetry to capture data and built massive data warehouses to store it. And at the front end of all of that, they established Business Intelligence (BI) teams to extract the data, seep through it and provide reports and commentary to the business.

However, despite these efforts, many enterprises felt like they were not enjoying the full potential of the data revolution and were often falling into the common traps of data.

Siloed datasets and databases, limited integration of the data to the business and a lack of context to the functions, customers and competition.

Ultimately, data was not driving the business decisions as much as they thought it would.

Then came the data scientists, the Chief Data Officers and different insights managers and directors. These roles were aimed to create a more natural marriage between data and the business due to the background and experience of the employees manning them.

The Queen

And indeed, this has taken the BI functions to the next level. Senior executives were receiving deeper and richer insights on their data that included advanced statistical analyses as well as integration with other types of data, from social media to competitor data, employee reports and other analytics.

Structured, unstructured or semi-structured, the business was relying more on data in its decision making and information has really become the power.

Power, unfortunately, that has often been abused.

A Princess?

Different definitions of metrics, selective cuts of data and obscure lenses on it can create an atmosphere of data driven by agendas and not decisions driven by hard data.

Since anyone who has worked with data and business knows, a slight change in a formula, form factor or other data attribute can paint a whole different picture of the business situation.

With the proper shades and background, you can make a frog look like a prince..

Aside from the agenda and political driven flaws, companies also face innocent mistakes due to misuse of data, improper tools and visualization, mediocre implementation and an unsupportive culture for data and metrics.

The Throne

So what is that missing piece that can make this marriage work?

More and more companies are starting to realize that their approach to their most valuable resource, people, needs to change.

The command and control, carrot and stick and fixed power hierarchies have become the malaise for companies in a creative, fast paced, information economy we are in.

They have become a breeding ground for the worst in corporate behaviour. Empire building, yes men or women, bureaucracy, red tape, hung decisions and fear culture.

These have cost organizations in duplications, poor products, time wasted and indeed, a lack of use of data, metrics and context since employees ask: what’s the point?

A Change in the Reign

But that is now changing.

Agile practices have replaced the machinery of lengthy plans, budgets and decisions. A more fluid, natural hierarchies have emerged based on meritocracy, competence and people’s skills.

The hours, workplace and tenure have moved from a whole career in an office working 9 to 5 to working whenever and wherever.

A change in performance reviews and cycles has yet to adequately transform the process but it is in the coming.  

This has been supported by academia (Dan Ariely), business writers (Daniel Pink),  and indeed by avantgarde companies like Netflix, Google, HubSpot and more.

All of them put the emphasis on basic and evolving human behaviour as the cornerstone for triggering change.

Daniel Pink writes: “Science shows that the secret to high performance isn’t our biological drive or our reward-and-punishment drive, but our third drive—our deep-seated desire to direct our own lives, to extend and expand our abilities, and to live a life of purpose.”

Wolff Olins, a consultancy, summarized in their report that there is a “marked swing from concentrating on the outputs (driving people hard on sales, etc..) to inputs (creating a long, lasting, ethical culture)”

And indeed, Netflix have re-invented HR with their famous deck (what Sheryl Sandberg called one of the most important documents ever to come out of Silicon Valley) and recently with their new policy of unlimited time off for new fathers.

Google has created a transparent and open culture for innovation and independence and HubSpot have come out with their own culture code that regards the work culture as the operating system that powers their organization.

And from my small and humble experience of transforming Skype into a data-driven company, I saw how quickly we moved from a data transformation to a cultural one.

We needed the behaviours to be in place for our tools, systems and databases to be used for the business decision making.

So where does this all leave us?

Digital Kingdom

To truly take advantage of the digital transformation in the information economy, companies need to realize that it takes more than a tweak to catch up with the revolution technology has brought us.

The current age of Digital requires different foundation from the employees, leadership and business processes. Unless companies are willing to fundamentally change those elements, they will never fully materialize the potential of digital transformation.

We have reached an inflection point where it’s time to stop trying to fix the old model and instead leap to the new one.

So if you want your people to work, share and leverage data and context in their decision making, make sure you provide the supportive business atmosphere for it.

In today’s age that’s Culture.

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