Eric D. Brown, D.Sc.

Data Science | Entrepreneurship | ..and sometimes Photography

Tag: culture (page 1 of 2)

Data and Culture go hand in hand

data and culture go hand in handA few weeks ago, I spent an afternoon talking to the CEO of a mid-sized services company.  He’s interested in ‘big data’ and is interviewing consultants / companies to help his organization ‘take advantage of their data’.  In preparation for this meeting, I had spent the previous weeks talking to various managers throughout the company to get a good sense of how the organization uses and embraces data.  I wanted to see how well data and culture mixed at this company.

Our conversation started out like they always do in these types of meetings. He started asking me about big data, how big data can help companies and what big data would mean to their organization.  As I always do, I tried to provide a very direct and non-sales focused message to the CEO about the pros/cons of big data, data science and what it means to be a data-informed organization.

This particular CEO stopped me when I started talking about being ‘data-informed’.  He described his organization is being a ‘data-driven company!’ (the exclamation was implied in the forcefulness of his comment).  He then spent the next 15 minutes describing his organization’s embracing of data. He described how they’ve been using data for years to make decisions and that he’d put his organization up against any other when it comes to being data-driven.  He showed me sales literature that touts their data-driven culture and described how they were one of the first companies in their space to really use data to drive their business.

After this CEO finished exclaiming the virtues of his data-driven organization, I made the following comment (paraphrasing of course…but this is the gist of the comment):

“You say this is a data-driven organization…but the culture of this organization is not one that I would call data-driven at all.   Every one of your managers tells me most decisions in the organization are made by ‘gut feel’.  They tell me that data is everywhere and is used in making decisions but only after the decision has been made.   Data is used to support a decision rather than informing the decisions. There’s a big difference between that and being a data-informed and a being a data-driven organization.

After what felt like much more than the few seconds it was, the CEO smiled and asked me to help him understand ‘just what in the hell I was talking about’.

What am I talking about?

I’m talking about the need to view data as more than just a supporting actor in the theatrical play that is your business.  Data must go hand-in-hand with every initiative your organization undertakes.   There’s some folks out there that argue that you need to build a data-driven culture, but that’s a hard thing to sell to most people and simply because they don’t really understand what a ‘data-driven’ culture is.

So…what is a ‘data-driven culture’?  If you ask 34 experts on the subject, you’ll get 34 different explanations.  I suspect if you ask another 100 experts, you’ll get 100 additional answers.  Rather than trying to be a data-driven culture, its much better to integrate the idea of data into every aspect of your culture. Rather than try to create a new culture that nobody really understands (or can define), work on tweaking the culture you have to be one that embraces data and the intelligent use of data.

This is what happens when you become start moving toward being a data-informed organization.   Rather than using data to provide reasons for the decisions that you make, you need to incorporate data into your decision making process. Data needs to be used by your people (an important point…don’t forget about the people) to make decisions. Data needs to be a part of every activity in the organization and it needs to be available to be used by anyone within the organization. This is where a good data governance / data management system/process comes into play.

During my meeting with the CEO, I spent about 2 hours walking through the topics of data and culture.  We touched on many different topics in our conversation but always seemed to come back around to him not understanding how his organization isn’t “data-driven”.  He truly believed that he was doing the right things that a company needs to do to be ‘data-driven’. I couldn’t argue that he wasn’t doing the right things but I did point out the fact that data was considered as an afterthought in every conversation I had with his leadership team.

Data and culture go hand in hand

Since that meeting, the CEO has called me a few times and we’ve talked through some plans for helping bring data to the forefront of his organization.  This type of work is quite different than the ‘big data’ work that the CEO had original wanted to talk about.  There’s no reason not to continue down the path of implementing the right systems, processes and people to build a great data science team within the company, but to get the most from this work, its best to also take a stab at tweaking your culture to ensure data is embraced and not just tolerated.

A culture that embraces data is one that ensures data is available from the CEO down to the most junior of employees.  This requires not only cultural change but also systematic changes to ensure you have proper data governance and data management in place.

Data science, big data and the whole world that those worlds entail is much more than just something you install and use.  Its a shift from a culture focused on making decisions by gut-feel and using data to back that decision up to one that intuitively uses data throughout the decision making process, including starting with data to find new factors to make decisions on.

What about your organization? Does data and culture go hand in hand or are you trying to force data into a culture that doesn’t understand or embrace it?

Building a Data Culture

virt_1_346x214Many companies want to ‘do’ big data today. They’re spending money on systems, software, consulting, training and other services to be able to capture, process, analyze and use data. Those are all things that need to be done to be up their data science capabilities and skills. Companies need the right platforms, the right systems, the right people and skills to be able to properly analyze and use their data.

There’s one area that many organizations fail to address when building up their data analytics programs and skills. That area involves the corporate culture. Specifically, it involves the culture around listening, curiosity, investigation and willingness to try and fail.

Corporate culture can play a huge role in the success or failure of data analytics programs. If your company’s culture doesn’t like hearing new data that may provide conflicting information, your big data initiatives may be set up for failure from the very beginning.

In my experiences, the ability to listen and act on new data is one of the most important aspects of corporate culture that leads to success with data analytics and big data. If you don’t have a corporate culture and leadership team willing to listen to new information. For example, if your CEO doesn’t listen to data or arguments that go against her beliefs, you may be in for a very difficult time if your data analysis shows a reality different than the one that she expects or wants.

While listening and accepting competing arguments and data is the top cultural issue that can make or break big data, the other cultural aspects are important as well. For example, if the people who are working with your data aren’t curious about the data and willing to spend plenty of time investigating that data then you may be wasting money giving those people the proper skills to become a data scientist. You may be training them to act as your data scientists, but if they aren’t interested in finding out more about your data and investigation new avenues of analysis, you may not get the move value from them or your big data initiatives.

Lastly, your corporate culture should be willing to accept failure. Now, I’m not saying you should embrace or excuse failure, but many times in the data analysis world you end up finding analyses that don’t match with your expectations. Much of the time spent by data scientists is spent in small analysis projects looking for new ways to look at data. Many of these small projects end in failure with nothing of measurable value to show for the time spent on that project. Even though it may seem like wasted time, these types of projects are what make great data scientists as it allows them to continuously improve on their skills.

Successfully implementing big data initiatives is much more than just buying some software or systems. Successful big data initiatives require working on soft skills as well as organizational culture to ensure that the big data mindset is ingrained throughout the organization.

This post is brought to you by SAS.

A look into RIM’s Culture?

Blackberry Fail  By jaygrandin on flickrI ran across a great post this morning over on Boy Genius Report titled Open letter to BlackBerry bosses: Senior RIM exec tells all as company crumbles around him.  Its a long letter but very very insightful.

First off there are a lot of lessons to learn from that letter.  A couple of key sentences:

You have many smart employees, many that have great ideas for the future, but unfortunately the culture at RIM does not allow us to speak openly without having to worry about the career-limiting effects.

and

Rather than constantly mocking iPhone and Android, we should encourage key decision makers across the board to use these products as their primary device for a week or so at a time

and

The truth is, no one in RIM dares to tell management how bad our tools still are. Even our closest dev partners do their best to say it politely, but they will never bite the hand that feeds them

and lastly

Strategy is often in the things you decide not to do.

Man…I’d like to find the person that wrote that letter and give them a high five.   If I were in a position to do so, I’d also hire that person on the spot.

I really love that last line –  “Strategy is often in the things you decide not to do.”  How powerful is that?

With this letter we get to see some real insight into the inner-workings and culture of RIM. If the allegations are true, there’s some serious culture issues within this company….and it will take some serious change to make any progress in the future.

I used to love my blackberry. I couldn’t imagine owning anything else….until the iPhone came out.  Then…shortly afterward, the Android OS arrived….and I couldn’t imagine continuing to carry a blackberry. I bought the Motorola Droid the first day it was available and have never looked back.

I’ve traded that droid in for an HTC Incredible and love it. I’m tempted to jump into an iPhone I’ve so far resisted the temptations…we’ll see what happens with the next iPhone.

What would it have taken to keep me on the blackberry?  Looking back….a lot. I’d want the simplicity of the Android OS plus the sexy Apple design.    And we all know those are qualities that RIM has had a hard time with.

And…I think the above mentioned letter shines some light on why those changes never came about …and why they will most likely never come.

Image Credit: Blackberry Fail  By jaygrandin on flickr

 

Technology Selection and Cultural Fit

technology selectionDid you know that technology selection is about much more than technology?

Yep…its true…..but most people don’t realize it.

Many in the IT world love to get asked to be a part of a technology selection project. These types of projects usually provide a learning opportunity for everyone on the team and an chance to really help drive the platforms used within the enterprise.

The basic question at hand for most technology selection projects really comes down to “‘what do we need and how much is it?”

With that question in mind, most IT professionals approach technology selection with the following three questions in mind:

These three questions definitely cover a great deal of requirements….but one major area is missing.  I’d add the following:

Does the technology fit the culture?

Pretty broad question but one that’s extremely important to answer.

Now…one could argue that cultural fit should fit into the non-functional requirements or selection criteria selection questions…and I’d agree. That said, very few people really consider organizational culture when choosing technology.

Cultural Fit – why worry?

Why should we worry about cultural fit when selecting technology?

Simple…organizational culture is a key driver of technology acceptance and adoption.

Company culture will dictate how much support for a new technology is required. It will make a difference whether your users will take it upon themselves to learn a new technology or expect to have their hands through detailed training classes.

Culture will also determine how technology is used. Will the technology you select and implement by used in some new, innovative way or will it barely be used for its intended purpose?

Cultural fit is just as important to an organization as functional requirements but its an often overlooked  step in technology selection.

A Case Study in Cultural Fit and Technology Selection

I was hired by a large organization a few years ago to implement and manage development and customization for Sitecore CMS.  The project was an interesting one…the organization hadn’t used a content management system prior to their selection of Sitecore and had been building all websites using HTML and flat-file databases through a two person web team.

The team responsible for the selection and implementation of Sitecore CMS had assumed that the platform could be rolled out and anyone / everyone in the organization would be allowed into the system to input and manage their own content.

Now…with the proper people and culture, this might not have been a bad idea.  But the culture of this organization at the time was top-down command and control where everyone had been conditioned to do as they were told.  At the time there was even a paper based communication approval process that required at least 5 signatures (sometimes more) before anything was allowed to be published to the web (this process has since changed for the better).

Can you imagine implementing a technology like Sitecore with built in workflow processes, approval processes and publishing capabilities and to not really use those processes because a paper-based approval system existed?  I will note that the Sitecore driven workflow processes were considered as a replacement for the paper-based system but never properly embraced or used.

With a culture built around waiting for your boss to tell you what to do, do you think the CMS platform was accepted and embraced by the users?

Another issue that was obvious from the beginning of this project was the complete lack of understanding of everything ‘web’ within this organization.  This was very much an organization with a “print” mentality and modern digital communications and marketing concepts weren’t well understood by most.

Needless to say, the plans to roll out Sitecore to the entire organization never really panned out. There were pockets of people and teams within the organization that were chomping at the bit to get into Sitecore but that was the exception rather than the rule.

Technology Selection – Lessons learned

What can we learn from this example?  The strategic objective behind selecting and implementing Sitecore was sound.  So were the functional requirements…the platform is an excellent platform and fit into the organization’s overall technology architecture and roadmap.

A failure occurred when the technology met the culture of the organization.   The culture was rooted in ‘do nothing wrong’ and ‘receive approval for everything’.  This culture let the inability for the people within the organization to understand, embrace and use a technology that allowed individual achievement, initiative and innovation.

If the real goal of this organization was to put the power of digital communications and marketing technology in the hands of individuals (with proper workflow processes of course), a first step should have been to take on some form of organizational readiness study prior to technology selection.  If this had been done, perhaps a different technology would have been selected or at least a different plan for rolling out the selected technology could have been created.  Perhaps some organizational & cultural changes could have been implemented to allow this technology to better serve the needs of the company & people.

Regardless of what could have been done differently, the basic lesson is this: failure to consider organizational culture prior to or during a technology selection project can be disastrous.  Next time you take on a selection project, add the ‘cultural fit’ question to your list of things to consider…you may just be surprised at how differently your selection criteria and project turn out with this in mind.

Links for May 30 2010

Links for Jan 3 2010

Competing with Pirates by Mark Fidelman on Seek Omega and Cross Posted on CloudAve

Why Planning Is Important, Your Plan is Not by George Krueger and Mary-Lynn Foster on Blog For Profit

Are You Willing to Lose Your Best and Brightest Over a Bag of Pretzels? by Vincent Ferrari on KnowHR Blog

Breaking Through Organizational Silos in HR by Lance Haun on Rehaul by Lance Haun

I Can’t (Read: Don’t Want To) Change by Julien Smith on in over your head

Why You Should Fire Yourself by Ron Ashkenas on HarvardBusiness.org

Project Leadership Lessons From a Jigsaw Puzzle by Kevin Eikenberry on Kevin’s Blog

Partnering in Outsourcing Deals: Is It a Myth or a Genuine Strategy? by Sara Cullen on The Cutter Blog | Debate Online

When Your Company Culture Isn’t Ready for Social Media by Jeanne C Meister and Karie Willyerd on HarvardBusiness.org

Three Enterprise 2.0 Themes You Should Be Watching in 2010 by Hutch Carpenter on I’m Not Actually a Geek

Marketing, technology, and storytelling by Scott Brinker on Chief Marketing Technologist

A Breakdown in Culture, Communication, and Technology by Gene De Libero

10 Ways to Get Serious About Social Media by Amber Naslund on Altitude Branding

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