Seeing Around Corners author Graham Hogg shares his insights on the 3 gaps that teams need to close in order to build a data-driven culture.
‘The Bamiyan highway dissecting through the city of Kandahar in Afghanistan is mostly straight. Small bazars on either side of the road buzz with activity, with locals going about their business, mostly ignoring the presence of the British military convoys charging through on their daily routines. I recall the city having a distinct smell: wet dirt mixed with diesel from old truck engines that had seen better days, billowing smoke as they attempted to push and grind through the traffic…
Kandahar was dominated by a low din of activity: honking car horns, tired engines crawling through traffic like old men, workers banging away at pieces of metal, people wrestling through their daily challenges. On that day, though, the roar of British Land Rovers added to the cacophony of noise, as they accelerated up and down the roads of the city. As the leader that day, I was fixed to the sound coming from my radio headset, doing my best to keep a gentle hand on the flow of the convoy and let my team do their job of getting us through safely. I recall having light conversations with my driver about everything from what was going on at the time, to friends and family back home, and getting to the end of the tour. It was a brief respite from the mayhem surrounding us…’
During my military career on Operations in Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and the Arabian Gulf, it became very clear to me that the ability of leaders and teams to See Around Corners was of critical importance. In the midst of the volatility that we faced, foresight was the fuel of innovation and adaptability.
Post 9/11 and the global war on terror, we were faced with a new challenge, that of heightened complexity. In previous conflicts going back into history, the delineation between the “good guys, bad guys and civilians” was much easier. We knew who the enemy was, what uniforms they wore, the tanks and weapons they used and even the type of communications equipment and tactics. In this era, we were able to gather deep levels of data on them that would inform a strategic decision-making process. Here, deep planning cycles and flawless execution was the theme of the day.
But in Afghanistan in 2006 this wasn’t the case where we faced an environment of such complexity that this traditional paradigm fell short. In a world where a local businessman, tribal leader, insurgent and Military Officer were all closely connected, it was that of foresight and adaptability that enabled us to achieve our mission. Not running an operation at that time, in that area was often the best course of action.
Pulling triggers is hard, not pulling them is sometimes harder.
When I left the Royal Marines, went to business school and embarked upon a business career I saw teams experiencing the same challenges that we did. In the business world I found myself in, the focus was on efficiency and planning – align to a goal and then march towards it in a perfectly aligned way.
This I argue is born from a manufacturing mindset – a world of stability not complexity.
The ability for organisations to See Around Corners has never been more important. Today, billion dollar companies are losing market share to smaller start-ups – where a 17 year old girl can invent her own makeup brand from her bedroom, get 10,000+ followers on instagram and suddenly, the traditional power house of brands we know are being disrupted and losing market share. The same can be said for the craft beer movement and wider industry disruption.
The response to this has been often to create an innovation team or growth team where their mission is to “go and find the new idea”. I have seen this first hand and it’s too slow, expensive and frankly doesn’t work. Or, employ a management consultancy to come in and redesign the organization and all the new process that follow, sometimes ironically causing more confusion.
This is all too slow for the fast moving business world leaders face today.
Instead, leaders need to commit to building an understanding of what is going on in their markets, how their products are being used and what their future customer groups are going to want.
This is where data is so important and the way that teams use it.
There are 3 gaps that teams need to close in order to achieve this and build a data-driven culture.
Cultural gaps – “from gut to gigabytes”
Leaders need to move away from making decisions based on their gut and experience and start to pivot towards a data driven decision. The HiPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) in the room no longer holds true and leaders of teams now need to act more as a facilitator for the discussion where they can stage messy conversations to challenge each other and hypothesis. In this data-driven team, assumptions are challenged and team members (irrespective of rank or tenure) feel comfortable to challenge hypothesis and play devil’s advocate.
Cognitive gaps – “slow down to speed up”
If teams are not clear on the business value they are trying to create and their specific mission then they have little chance of asking a good question to data. Clarity on what’s important is where teams need to start and this is all about slowing down to think through what they need to understand to inform better decisions and drive value for their customers. Only then do you go to data. Outside-in-thinking or What if? analysis are simple and effective techniques to close these gaps on the important bits.
Semantic gaps – “what did you say…?!”
Teams need to industrialize a simple and common language as we start to see domain and analytics experts working together. Not mutually exclusive from the points above, to maximise the return on investing in data skills and technologies, if simple ways of working in day to day projects then that resource will not get maximum use. A simple language to close semantic gaps is where teams can start. We refer to our ADAPT Cycle here where decisions are leader led and data fed.
I get asked all the time by teams where to start and my answer is always the same. Put your team through a fun and engaging experience where they can see first-hand these behavioral and cultural challenges and equip them with simple tools and resources that they can then take back to the business and start using immediately in their meetings.
Do so, and you and your teams will be able to See Around Corners…
Seeing Around Corners is out on 30 November
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