3 Questions: Randy Pennington Discusses Data’s Role in Organizational Change

If there’s one thing today’s CIOs understand, it’s change. Everything about the CIO’s job is changing: technology, staffing, vendors, delivery models, and – most importantly – expectations. But ask CIOs if they have mastered change – and can deliver positive results from it – and their answers may not be so positive. That’s why Randy Pennington was asked to deliver the afternoon keynote address at CIO Perspectives in Dallas on February 26. Pennington has spent a quarter-century helping organizations deliver positive results in a world of constant change.

Pennington is author of three top-rated business books, a consultant to companies large and small, and a sought-after public speaker. (Learn more about him at his website.) Pennington made time in his busy schedule to discuss how data and analytics can support organizational change.

OpenText: In your keynote at CIO Perspectives you plan to talk about how successful IT leadership requires constant change and adaptation. Can data help CIOs navigate the changes they face? What data – and data analysis tools – are most effective and helpful?

Pennington: Data can absolutely help CIOs determine what needs to change and how they are progressing in their efforts. The key point to remember is that the data has to be important from a business perspective, and that means looking at it through the eyes of the customer – or, in many cases, customers. Data analytics tools that show how the change will enable the operation to run faster, better, cheaper, and/or friendlier are critical for gaining initial buy-in from senior level stakeholders. And once the change is underway, showing continual progress against agreed upon metrics helps you fine-tune, and most important, maintain the effort after the initial push.

People buy into change because it seems like a good idea or they see others doing something similar. They continue to support and sustain it only when it produces results that are important to them. CIOs must also remember that the data that is important to senior leaders may not be important to end users. To get the buy-in from end users, we should also look at the data from their perspective.

We tell our clients that there only three things you can measure in an organization: activities, results, and perceptions. Results (the hard numbers) and perceptions (the feelings) are actually lagging indicators. Data related to the activities required to produce the desired result is the best leading indicator of success.

OpenText: You write, “Too often, we have treated people like data and things to be managed rather than as human beings with dreams, aspirations, and choices.” With that in mind, does data play a role in how organizations are organized and run? How can it be effectively marshalled to support change?

Pennington: Data plays a critical role in how organizations are organized and run. The best organizations are data driven in how they make decisions. But, there is an emotional aspect to every human decision, even those that are framed in the context of logical, factual analysis. Leaders run into problems when they assume that everyone will respond to the facts supported by the data. People support and take action to change for their own reasons, not for ours.

There should be a good business reason to initiate change within the organization, and that decision should be supported by some form of data. But, that alone will not energize and engage people. We have to translate and connect that data to something that is important to the individual in order to secure buy-in for change.

OpenText: One theme of your book Results Rule! is this: “Delivering results is more about what you do than what you know. The heroes of the marketplace minimize the gap between knowing and doing.” How can people – particularly those in IT – translate what they know into what they do?

Pennington: One question that I often ask when I begin work with a client is this: “Do things need to change around here?” Everyone says yes, and everyone has an idea of what to do. Then I ask this follow-up question: “How long have you known that needs to be done?” The answers range from weeks to years. And that is the point. Most of us are aware of actions we could take, or at least areas on which we should focus, to improve our operations. We may not always have the knowledge or tools to do what we need to do, but we know what it is.

One specific practice that IT leaders can use – and this sounds really obvious – is to put our good intentions about empowerment into action. Everyone on your team knows something that must be done to make things faster, better, cheaper, and/or friendlier. For instance, one client reduced the length of time to process travel reimbursements from three weeks to a little over four days. All it took was the leadership deciding to truly empower people who knew what needed to be done. I think it is the same for many IT leaders. They are failing to utilize fully the knowledge and ideas of their staff, and that extends the gap between knowing and doing.

Randy Pennington (@RandyPennington) will share more ideas on Making Change Work in a closing keynote at CIO Perspectives, held February 26 in Dallas, Texas. Also on the program, OpenText’s Brian Combs will appear in Straight Talk about SMAC (social, mobile, analytics and cloud), a panel moderated by IDG Enterprise SVP and Publisher Adam Dennison (@adamidg). Learn more and sign up for CIO Perspectives today.

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OpenText is the leader in Enterprise Information Management (EIM). Our EIM products enable businesses to grow faster, lower operational costs, and reduce information governance and security risks by improving business insight, impact and process speed.

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