Why Is Good Data Vital Currency and Bad Data a Disaster?
Issue 49: March 31, 2022
We often talk about the common problem of collecting massive amounts of data without a strategy to transform it into intelligent action-oriented insights. We are all drowning in data as technology and digital interactions have allowed us to collect and store more data and offer access to it. Given the large amounts of data now at our fingertips, we need data scientists and analytical engineers to make sense of it all. We flatter ourselves with the amount of data collected as seemingly size matters and assume the data we have collected is reliable, valuable and meaningful. As we discussed last week, there is also some confusion as to what an output versus an outcome is, and data only adds to the confusion and challenge.
There is a more insidious reality in data management. We don’t identify and assess the right input that assesses outcome measurement. We also make faulty assumptions of incomplete or bad data, we assign the wrong definition and meaning to the data, and we don’t often question its value. Human error is often the root of faulty data analytics and what is measured as a result. If you don’t ask the right questions in the context of the specific problem, how can you expect the data to reflect the appropriate answers? If the data is incorrectly defined, incomplete, or not valuable, how then do you make organizational decisions or truly understand organizational performance?
We are going to explore a topic that is frequently overlooked by management when establishing a data practice: how bad or faulty data can lead to disastrous decision making that results in taking the wrong actions or responses — often with significant consequences.
Do You Measure by Outputs or Outcomes?
Issue 48: March 24, 2022
How do you and your organization measure accomplishments and achievements?
In an Industrial Age mindset, output was believed to be the only measure as maximizing production efficiency became something close to a religious mantra. In today’s Knowledge Age era, outcome, actually accomplishing a strategy or goal is the real measure that determines outcome not output. In a marketplace that values what an organization stands for and its effect on all real and perceived stakeholders – and the planet – it’s surprising that outcome and impact are not embedded more strongly into a balance sheet. We propose that strategic results should have higher standing to operational results, with associated measures. And above all, organizations need to measure what matters, which is outcomes and impact, not metrics defined by an industry, competitor or measurements found on the internet.
In a recent meeting with Bob Willig, CEO of the Society for Manufacturing Engineers (SME), shared “if you never have a destination, you are never lost.” The quote resonated with us as a simple statement that encompasses the challenges we find where organizations are measuring their output without seemingly having a destination that represents the goal, strategy, outcome or impact.
How to Have a Complicated Conversation
Issue 47: March 17, 2022
How many recent conversations at work or in your personal life have been complicated?
Everyone is anxious about the war in Ukraine, the unjust actions on its people and the unprovoked war’s effects on our country and the world. This new source of anxiety adds to our stress levels in navigating a return to some level of what was normal pre-pandemic. The global situation has also thrust us into having complicated conversations as the world around us seemingly changes and we don’t have a concrete way to understand what the future will bring. It’s a potential minefield out there to address conversationally and express ourselves.
Why Conversation Matters
This week, we want to dive into the topic having complicated conversations and offer some thoughts and approaches for your interactions with individuals and groups. Why? Leaders, managers and really any individual, in professional and personal lives, need to be prepared to have complicated conversations that provide an open forum to have results-driven discussions on any issue from the global level to the office and across our personal lives.
In our 2040 newsletters focused on leading with courage, active listening, shared knowledge, individual biases and critical thinking, we brought forward the necessity to step back from ourselves, embrace humility, and recognize those that we are interacting with. And above all, we advocate structuring our communications and conversations for positive outcomes. We invite you to check them out for more strategies on leading with purpose, humility and empathy.
Is Your Organization Prepared to Establish a First-Party Data Strategy?
Issue 46: March 10, 2022
The criticality and the stakes for embracing a first-party data strategy are becoming more and more urgent as the days pass. The evolving regulatory requirement is to adopt organizational privacy practices that put the controls of one’s data in the hands and decision-making power of an individual, not an organization. In late spring of 2021, in anticipation of the regulatory changes, we advised our clients to move away from, or minimize the use of third-party, anonymous user-generated, and cookie-based data. The urgency then, and now, was to encourage organizations to embed first-party practices and strategies.
Why is first-party data that represents an organization’s curated known users becoming more of a critical strategy for doing business in today’s economy?
Organizations that have aspired to or have had some success with moving to a data-driven model to be more informed about their customers, prospective customers and content consuming users, are now confronted with having to provide individuals with opt-out or opt-in choices for being tracked and having their data stored and used within an organization.
Web analytic platforms, marketing automation, and similar data collectors and trackers enable organizations to collect behavioral information:
- User navigation paths (how users move through a website, app or application), how often they visit.
- Organic search keyword drivers that may have resulted in their visit to the organization as well as a collection of device and location-based data.
- Leveraging cookies to further track or target users based on their prior behaviors with advertising and to reveal how social channels bring those users to a site, app or application.
Issue 45: March 3, 2022
We have written over the past year highlighting the necessity of recognizing the many roles we play, whether the roles are assigned or expected. Human beings can appear to be many different people throughout the day dependent on the situation or environment. We assume different roles depending on the situation at hand, although our core values don’t change. These roles may blur from time to time, but it is critically important to recognize which role we are assuming and what is expected of us. For example, although we may be natural leaders, we may choose to play a subordinate role when appropriate.
Add to the mix in the roles we play, the subconscious and unconscious bias we carry with us is constantly acting and reacting to the stimuli in the situation or environment that we are in. With ingrained values and biases, everyone has to manage constituents’ expectations (with their own values and biases) in whatever role he or she assumes. Leaders’ actions and behaviors are monitored by others influencing decisions on whether to follow them. Those who serve in a public office are held to task by those that voted for them.
In businesses and organizations, board members, whether for a local charity, private business or public corporation are accountable to many constituents, all of whom have different expectations. Constituents trust a board member (like an elected official) to represent them and the issues or causes they care about. While taking on the responsibility to represent, individuals must also recognize their role and responsibilities to the organization and to their peers on a board. And the individual behaviors, biases and group dynamics at play. Tension results. The balancing act, then, is made even more complex by fiduciary responsibilities, policies and laws.
Boards and activist investors have been making headlines. Let’s take a look at the dynamics of human behaviors that often play out in the board room.
Issue 44: February 24, 2022
The workforce is changing in real-time in terms of how employees want to be recognized, valued, and supported – and how employers are responding. Much has been written about the headlines Gen Zs are making regarding work, but the shifts taking place are not restricted to only one generation in our six-generation workforce.
In parallel to employee demands, there are some sea changes that are worth noting that are subtly reshaping how we define work and how we work. Here is our top ten list of some of the more profound and weirder changes taking place.
Workers of all ages and life stages have become completely fed up with work as they know it. The wave of resignations has included all generations. Boomers have taken early retirement (but don’t count them out, they will be a big part of the gig economy in their second and third acts). Lower-paid workers are the majority of quitters and are looking to ratchet up their job paths with similar but different positions with better pay and better benefits. But perhaps the most significant trend is that workers want to work to live, not live to work.
The anti-ambition movement is led by workers who don’t see a traditional career ladder in their future. As reported by Noreen Malone in The New York Times, “during the pandemic a vast majority of people were deemed essential with jobs like Amazon warehouse workers or cashiers. To be told that society can’t function without you and that you must risk your health to come in, while other people push around marketing reports from home — often for much more money — it becomes difficult not to wonder if essential is cynical, a polite way of classing humans as expendable or nonexpendable.” She adds, “Now, though, it’s as if our whole society is burned out. The pandemic may have alerted new swaths of people to their distaste for their jobs — or exhausted them past the point where there’s anything to enjoy about jobs they used to like.” Thus, the anti-ambition mindset was spawned.
The Power of Positive … and Negative Thinking
Issue 43: February 17, 2022
What have we been told since kindergarten? Believe in the power of positive thinking! For many, positive thinking is an intuitive attitude reflected in a state of mind and behavior. The optimists, who are inclined to be hopeful and expect good outcomes, live this credo daily. Wake up with positive thoughts and positive outcomes will result. The skeptics, who are inclined to doubt or question any belief (especially those that are dogmatic and rote) may view positive thinking as a Pollyanna-ish notion. The realists, who accept a belief system as it is and behave accordingly, are somewhere in the middle. The pessimists tend to see the worst aspects of things and believe the worst will happen. Where are you on the spectrum? And how does that influence your interactions, professional behavior, and how you work?
To mix things up, there is also a school of the power of negative thinking which has its supporters and is used as a guide to effective decision making, strategy and influence. Let’s unpack positive and negative thinking to evaluate how either approach can help and hinder an organization.
How Do You Trust?
Issue 42: February 10, 2022
Everyone is talking about who or what to trust, particularly in today’s fractious public discourse. When we decide to trust, we have aligned with and formed an understanding, correlation, and interpretation of the meaning of that trust. We then apply what has been communicated, shared, and internalized to our own beliefs, values, and knowledge … and take actions based on that trust.
In Ourselves We Trust
Where do we end up if we have formed thoughts, knowledge, beliefs and take actions only to discover our trust was misaligned? We feel violated, we question ourselves and second guess how we could have trusted in the first place. What did we do wrong in our evaluation and assessment of the trust we aligned with to another, an organization, or even a government?
It gets more complicated. If we don’t trust ourselves, we typically don’t trust others. You can also flip the equation and by trusting others we can trust ourselves. This bi-directional connection aids us in forming our perception of reality. We wrote a few weeks ago about how reality is really perception. So, if we trust what we have been told and trust it has some correlation to the fact, then we indeed perceive a feeling of trust.
How We Trust
But the real question is how you trust, and that doesn’t mean that you can or are able to trust. Rather, what is the process of how you trust, even in trusting yourself? Consider the seminal work, How Does a Poem Mean and take a page from John Ciardi to think about how you trust as the analysis of all the independent elements that comprise your decision to trust. In literature, it’s breaking poems down to study their structure, form, language, and theme. Let’s apply those meta principles in analyzing how you trust – professionally and personally.
Inflation + True Value: Do You Raise Your Price?
Issue 41: February 3, 2022
This is the first time since 1982 that inflation has grown at such a fast pace and become such an urgent short-term issue for so many organizations and individuals around the world. It is clearly affecting consumers forcing them to make fundamental changes in their choices and their overall lifestyles. The consumer who is now having to be more discerning about their own expenses contributes to a set of challenges faced within most organizations as they seek to determine how to manage their own increasing expenses. As The New York Times reports, there are higher home heating prices, surging rent costs, and rising food and gas prices. Refrigerator staples including meat, poultry fish and eggs rose 12% over the past year.
Inflation isn’t the only problem in the present and foreseeable future. Organizations also face increased expenses in response to the scarcity of skilled employees and the increased costs for retaining and acquiring employees. The impact of inflation and changes in workforce dynamics presents existential challenges – particularly for associations and subscription-based organizations that majorly rely upon recurring revenue models.
How does an organization continue to create value while contending with operations that cost significantly more than they did two years ago?
- Does an organization increase its dues or monthly subscriptions?
- Does an organization increase its prices on other products to counter increased expense?
- How will inflation continue to influence and impact members and subscribers and the willingness to continue to be a member or subscriber?
We have not seen 7% inflation in a long time, and we have never seen a workforce environment of such scarcity and competitiveness.
How to Use Systems Thinking + Strategic Thinking
Issue 40: January 27, 2022
One of the common complaints about the ongoing explosion of startups is that they tout a solution … as it turns out in many instances, to a problem that usually doesn’t exist. We envy their innovation, admire their flexibility and applied agility, but entrepreneurs often don’t look deeply enough to understand if there is an actual problem that their solution seeks to address. It’s not just the innovators. Many of us don’t see beyond our own creative development and therefore, like entrepreneurs, fail to see that the solution is really looking for a problem to solve.
Our excitement energizes us with the potential, which can influence us to overlook our own gaps in understanding how the solution applies to a real-life problem. For example, in the case of the stock market, we invest heavily in selected companies following the lead of the “experts,” with the assumption that they see potential that we don’t. We rally behind the investments as we seek to follow and align with the leaders. In business, this is a perfect example of undermining how a solution fits in the larger system by not correlating critical thinking to a set of real and well-formed outcomes.
Falling in love with a solution misses the point if it is searching for a problem and therefore a reason to be in business – particularly if the solution is out of context with your own organization. Failing to identify and define the real problem is like shooting in the dark. Without skill and practice, you might get lucky and hit the bullseye. But how many times did you miss altogether? In today’s rapidly changing society, each miss comes with consequences impacting short-term sustainability and long-term viability and growth.
First things first: What problem are you actually trying to solve? Does the problem really exist? Is how you or others define the problem reflective of the systems (including the environment) which your organization serves? And lastly, how are you trying to solve the problem?
Is Perception Everything?
Issue 39: January 20, 2022
Some say that we live in a simulation. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Matrix popularized ideas long held by some physicists and game theorists. Some say that we will be living in a parallel reality, a metaverse dramatized by Ender’s Game, Belle and Ready Player One, to mention only three pop culture narratives. There are plenty of thinkers and philosophers who believe that reality is how you perceive it; beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so to speak. So, what does any of this have to do with running an organization? A lot.
Perception Isn’t Universal
According to Christina Catenacci, ethics professor, “Perception is the process by which individuals organize and interpret their sensory impressions to give meaning to their environment. What one perceives can be substantially different from what another person perceives, and both can be very different than the actual objective reality. In fact, behavior is based on one’s perception of what reality is, not reality itself.” As for the workplace, “There are many factors that influence how something is perceived. Factors pertaining to the perceiver can involve the person’s attitudes, motives, interests, experience, and expectations. Contextual factors can involve time, work setting and social setting. Finally, factors related to the actual target can involve novelty, motion, sounds, size, background, and proximity,” she adds.
We often believe the way we think, act, and participate is consistent across all aspects of our perceived reality, personal or professional. However, our behavioral responses change depending on the situation or environment we are in. Our individual reality is comprised of how we interpret societal cues and norms, how we have learned to accord our behavior and actions, and the sum total of what we have previously experienced. Our reality is also informed by our interpretation of what we believe others believe and how they want us to act, communicate or behave.
Nine Real Risks in 2022
Issue 38: January 13, 2022
The existential and operational risks facing any leader have been ramped up because of an ongoing pandemic, economic disruption, global supply chain breakdowns and a series of demands from all stakeholders delivered through an increasingly contentious civil discourse. Our organizations have faced tough times in the past; what feels different this time is the perfect storm of forces most leaders have no control over. The irony is that on the surface it looks like everything is growing and thriving. The stock market is booming, there is a wave of investment activity and corporate profits are up, for the most part. Yet, the financial metrics do not reveal the undercurrents of dissatisfaction that could erode the infrastructure of our organizations.
What skills does a modern leader need? Never before has the balance of art and science been more essential. Effective leaders must be deeply human as well as tech-savvy. They also need to be big thinking strategists and on-the-ground operators. It no longer suffices to be deeply knowledgeable and conversant on a single leadership skill; managing and leading an organization now reflects connections and dependencies on data, technology, and how humans interact and respond to each other.
Most importantly, there is safety in numbers, and leaders need to form coalitions and partnerships, internally and externally. Flexibility without compromising the north star of ethics and integrity and leading with humility aware of their own biases are also key to great leadership. They also need to think globally and act locally. And when we say leadership, we are talking about everyday leaders as well as the executive team. To sum it up in Teddy Roosevelt’s words, “Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground.”
Not to sound alarmist, but we have identified the top nine risks facing organizations today. These risks are foundational to the human factor of our organizations. All the technology in the world cannot save people from themselves when their inherent biases (conscious and/or subconscious) guide their decision-making, strategy setting and managing customers and the workforce. Being aware of these nine risks is a start. Anticipating how these risks can affect organizational culture, the value it represents, and its financial success is the next step to establishing the checks, balances, and safeguards to weather through the next 18 months. And transcending both steps, requires the skill of critical thinking, the structure of systems thinking and the construct of collaboration to find the right actions and solutions for your own enterprise.
Issue 37: January 6, 2022
When the public discourse becomes contentious and people lose faith in institutions and government, increasingly they look to the organizations where they work or engage with as customers to bestow their trust and connection with a community of shared purpose. All types of stakeholders are pushing for more accountability from organizations and leadership, and yes, even the institutions they have seemingly lost faith in.
In fact, according to BrandCulture, “For too long, the business-as-usual approach to generating revenue and achieving growth has disengaged customers and employees, bred mistrust and damaged reputations by substituting relentless pursuit of profits for vision and frequently foregoing mission entirely.” Many of our government institutions have deflected the public or their constituents’ needs and wants by losing sight of their purpose for existence. Many professional organizations, profit and nonprofit, have become taken to task for not serving stakeholders. Therefore, faith and trust are eroding, a chasm has opened, and individuals are struggling to find connection and meaning to fill the chasm.
As with many other aspects of our current social disruptions, we are becoming more polarized in our belief systems, often framed by subconscious or unconscious bias.
Several weeks ago, we turned our attention to framing and discussing the criticality of market orientation and forming organizations around a shared purpose. Before the holidays, we discussed how to manage expectations and when to recognize the need to respond and take social and societal positions. This week, we dive deeper into defining and discussing shared purpose in the context of organizational alignment and in meeting an organization’s social obligations.
It is a complex topic, yet a critical exercise regardless of one’s perspective and values. Any enlightened attempt to seek change and transformation of an organization’s market orientation should fulfill the needs of society, both internal and external.
Shared purpose spurs a grounded conversation about the macro and micro issues that are important to a diverse, inclusive community by creating a narrative that is relevant, meaningful, and fluid so that it can evolve as the needs of stakeholders change. All organizations are represented as a mesosystem that reflects their organizational strategy, structure, model, and culture. A mesosystem does not exist in isolation. It is surrounded by, influenced and dependent upon the macrosystem (world, region, country, or locality) and the microsystem (comprised of individuals and groups of customers and employees). A shared purpose represents how the organization forms, works together and represents itself with intent and in service to the macro and microsystems surrounding it.
The Truth about Transformation
Book Preview Excerpt
Organizations, whether private companies, non-profits, charities or governments seek to transform to take advantage of new opportunities, including technological advances. Often, technology is the major driver of change that results in transformation. As a result, the organization often fails to achieve its objective and goal to truly transform. You see, technology remains an enabler, not a silver bullet. True transformative change requires understanding of the human factors at play, human conscious and subconscious behaviors, how humans inter-relate and how society itself and all of its members are changing.
Our workforces are changing, the expertise we need is becoming harder to acquire and roles are shifting. In addition, before and because of Covid in 2020, the world around us is becoming very different, a new reality is taking hold, one that will fundamentally change who we are, how we work and yes, how we seek to ensure organizations transform for today and for the future.
The Truth about Transformation, a new book by Kevin Novak, is now available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Apple Books. Enjoy a short preview.ard and upward from the 2040 Team