Change is hard for most organizations and individuals. Change that goes against historical cultural norms is even harder. In today’s fast moving business world, organizations have to change at a more rapid pace than ever before. Within the company I work for, we are going through a lot of change right now and I see it at many clients I meet with as well. While it may be difficult, change is possible. In many cases, taking a measured, steady approach to change can be more successful than pushing for massive, immediate change.
THE TORTOISE & THE HARE
Many of us read Aesop’s fables when we were young. One fable that always stuck with me is that of the Tortoise and the Hare. The premise was that after being teased about his slow speed, the tortoise challenged the hare to a race. After establishing a massive lead on the tortoise, the hare stopped to snack and have a nap. As a result, much to the dismay and disgrace of the hare, the tortoise won the race.
There are various interpretations of the lessons that can be learned from this story. But for today we’ll focus on one specific lesson. Namely, to win, you need to keep your eye on the finish line and make steady and relentless progress towards it. If you do, you’ll get there. In the process, you might just pass by others who thought they had a faster approach but who got sidetracked on the way to success.
The goal in the world of business is often to reach your goal with high confidence and within a committed timeframe. Transformation efforts often aren’t as much a desperate sprint to the finish as they are a longer race where pacing yourself is wise. Taking the tortoise’s approach just might be the winning approach in the face of cultural resistance.
WINNING THE ANALYTICS RACE
My favorite example of ensuring victory while accounting for culture is from a client my team did a lot of work with. The VP of marketing hired us to help him integrate a variety of customer analytics and metrics into his monthly leadership team report. The problem was that his company had never had a customer-centric view and management wasn’t fully sold on the concept when we started. They didn’t yet understand why looking at customer metrics as it related to a promotions performance, for example, would add value beyond their classic geographic and product views.
My client could have taken the faster, hare-like approach and created an entire new suite of monthly summaries right from the start. After all, we had all of the analytics completed and the data was available. However, he had a goal to get the executives to change over the fiscal year, which gave him some time. He was concerned that throwing everything at them at once would overwhelm them and cause a lot of pushback. So, he took a different approach.
The first month, he added one simple customer-oriented metric to his presentation. He took the time to explain it and discuss why it was relevant. It was a digestible change and the executives accepted it. He left it the same way for one additional month and ensured that the executives remained comfortable with it. Then, he added a second customer-oriented metric to his presentation. Building on what they already knew, it too was easy to digest. Over the course of the year, he continued to add more customer views into his monthly presentation, including complex and nuanced metrics.
By the end of the fiscal year, the VP did successfully migrate the executive team to understanding and embracing a customer view of the business. The monthly presentation contained a fair number of new metrics and analytics and he was able to get the executives to begin to look at their business differently. At the end of the year, he felt that he wouldn’t have succeeded any faster if he had pushed harder. In fact, he wasn’t sure he would have succeeded at all.
CULTURE TRUMPS DATA
My friend David Schmidt from Intercontinental Hotel Group first made the point that “culture trumps data” at an executive analytics dinner in Atlanta. His message was that no matter how good your data and analysis, if people aren’t culturally ready to hear your message and use your results, then you’ll get nowhere.
Keep in mind that taking the tortoise approach isn’t to say you move too slow. It just means that you move at a pace that keeps you on track. If you go too fast like the hare, you could end up missing signs that you need to adjust your approach. It is important to continuously monitor progress, assess how to best proceed, and then press on. A mad dash to the finish can backfire in many different ways.
The take away I’d leave with you is that as you try to change your organization through analytics, be sure not to push too hard like the hare when you’re going against the organization’s entrenched culture. You might actually do better if you take the tortoise’s approach and create a solid, steady plan to get to the finish line. At times, you’ll certainly wish you could move things faster. However, you must start from a realistic perspective and accept slowing down if in fact slowing down will get you where you need to go sooner.