Data Science and Change Management: A Match Made in Heaven?

Data Science and Change Management: A Match Made in Heaven?

Insights | 13 February 2018

Are you ready for data-driven change management?

Discussions on change management used to be centered around managing people and process. It has, however, increasingly turned to leveraging data. More specifically, how can we use large amounts of information to drive successful adoption of new technologies and process.

Here are some of the central trends around data and change management:

Trend #1: Rise in large-scale digital transformation initiatives

One major shift facing workers today is large-scale, digital transformations. This type of change mirrors the pace of digital adoption in our everyday lives. For example, global smartphone subscriptions are set to reach 7.2 billion by 2023, at a compound annual growth rate of 9%[1] – something to contemplate when managers complain how their team resists change. In their daily lives, at least when it comes to technology, the only constant is change.

A global 2017 report[2] on digital transformations by Fujitsu surveyed 1,600 business leaders across 15 countries. It found successful digital transformations drove significant business results – from better relationships with customers to greater revenue.

The survey also found that “creativity and imagination” were among the most sought-after skills behind successful digital transformations. Unsurprising, considering two central themes of digital transformations are the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence.

Interestingly, Australian business leaders came out ahead globally in planning, testing, or implementing a digital transformation project (92.5% vs. the international average of 89%).[3] Australian businesses also showed “slightly more optimism in the ability of AI to enhance the capabilities of humans in the future.”

Trend #2: Use of linguistic analysis to improve success rates

Companies are testing new tools and methods to examine word choices of individuals and teams to assess their readiness and reactions to different change initiatives.

This trend was highlighted in a recent post in the Harvard Business Review[4], outlining how companies are measuring attitudes towards everything from brand affinity to the impact of changes on customers, employees, investors and vendors.

New tools can be helpful, of course, but linguistic analysis doesn’t have to be complicated.

The authors writing in the Journal of Organisational Change Management[5] advocate for more attention to be paid to “the way language use…in change programs affects resistance to change.” Groups focussed on successful change understand that different models should be explored when considering diverse cultural and professional backgrounds of individuals.  In one example, the researchers found that with the help of a consultant, small tweaks to understanding differences in professional discourse led to more constructive discussions.

Trend #3: Pushing data-driven decision making down to the grassroots

Building a workforce empowered to make autonomous, data-driven decisions ensures change management is a part of everyday work life. Change is not something to be endured, white knuckled, from ‘on high’.

“[T]he impetus to improve is not coming from above,” writes Kevin Goldsmith[6], CTO of online legal marketplace, Avvo. Goldsmith says companies need to put employee autonomy at the forefront before expecting change to work.

This can be enabled with two premises:

  • A shared belief that questioning and challenging an idea is something to welcome and discuss
  • Teams can agree to use a specific data-driven framework to propose improvements

Trend #4: Principles of brain science

While applying the principles of brain science to business is nothing new, its connection and influence over the success or failure of enterprise transformations is still growing.

Author Britt Andreatta’s 2017 book, “Wired to Resist: The Brain Science of Why Change Fails and a New Model for Driving Success”[7], explains that change can drive three things: “fear, fatigue and failure.”

She’s not the only one delving into this discipline.

Research from the U.S. government[8] shows “even a small threat can inhibit the brain’s creativity, invention, new thinking, judgment and impulse control.” They advise leaders to use the brain’s own tools to “help others reinterpret change as opportunity rather than threat.”

One of the leaders of this research, Dr. David Rock and his colleagues have summarised the results of these studies in a framework of five social situations: status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness. According to Rock and the U.S. National Institutes of Health, “each has implications for productive leadership, especially in helping teams navigate change.”

Rock echoes Avvo’s focus on how a healthier respect for the power of autonomy can drive better results when it comes to change.

“For example,” Dr. Rock shared in an NIH lecture, “if you shuffle their pet projects, your employees may go into threat mode because they may perceive an attack on their status. It’s better to invite them to make choices wherever possible and to share their opinions, which may enhance their perceived status as well as their sense of certainty and autonomy.”

Australian companies are also using brain science to make informed approaches to change. For example, the Australian Business Award for Change Management was recently awarded to a company adopting neuroscientific principles.

What’s next?

At the start of this post we posed the question: Are you ready for data-driven change management? As we found with just a few examples, the world of Big Data is here now and clearly here to stay. Opportunities for data-driven change management are everywhere — embedded within the emails we write, the types of discussions we hold and the neurons within our brains.

So perhaps the better question is this: How will you be using data to make your transformations more successful?

For advice and support on your inflight or future change initiatives or large-scale transformations please contact us today on +65 6818 5771.

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