Data Revolution Is Unleashing The Era Of The Quantified Enterprise

Driving organisational change is notoriously difficult but, for the first time in history, we have access to knowledge and tools that can soothe that pain.

Data Revolution Is Unleashing The Era Of The Quantified Enterprise

In a world in constant beta, where change is the new normal and where the connected customer is more powerful than ever, organisations are left with no choice but to transform. But driving change is notoriously difficult and the stress of constant (and often unsuccessful) change initiatives can fray the very fabric that holds an organisation together.

The good news is that, for the first time in human history, we have access to knowledge and tools that can soothe the pain of change. Let me explain how, and the way I arrived at this realisation.

A Lot Of Catching Up

In 2010, a UN agency invited me to redesign a 40 year old event. The world had changed a lot in 40 years, the organisation not so much and the event hardly at all. While relatively new kids on the block (World Economic Forum, Mobile World Congress) were harnessing digital to engage, amplify, win brand advocates, drive brand loyalty, deliver seamless customer experience, and grow, this event was late to the digital table.

I accepted the gauntlet and moved to Geneva to embark on the most challenging, educational and gratifying journey of my career so far.

In the Nineties and Noughties my agency specialised in helping traditional companies to understand changing customer behaviours and expectations, and to ride the digital wave of change. My career had focussed on using digital technologies to break down the walls between silos and get people working together. Learning by doing over 12 years, we developed a toolkit to help clients catalyse cross-organisational collaboration, harness the power of digital and nurture innovative cultures.

My task at the UN was to apply that toolkit to transform their biggest revenue driver, and we succeeded. The event was transformed, the impact was significant, but the journey was often painful and fraught with resistance and fear. The process often felt like skiing uphill through honey. There had to be an easier way.

I needed to find answers: Why do people react so badly to change? Why do they fight tooth and nail to resist it—even when it is clear the change will lead to positive outcomes? Can we minimise resistance and dull the pain of the transformation journey?

Thus began my foray into the fascinating world of behavioural sciences, where many of my questions were answered and where I found crucial additions to my transformation toolkit.

The Myth Of Rationality

Relatively new and rapidly evolving scientific disciplines (systems science, social physics, behavioural and positive psychology, neuroscience) all super-charged by cheap and accessible behavioural data, are starting to explain why we behave the way we do.

Behavioural economists like the wonderful Dan Ariely and social physicists like MIT’s Sandy Pentland offer potent, and often surprising, insights into human behaviour that can help us to nudge people along a smoother road to transformation.

Behaviour change is the key to technology adoption, and ultimately to successful transformation into Enterprise 2.0. Most organisational change comms campaigns, based on the myth of rationality and the erroneous assumption that information is enough to drive change, fail. When we understand what really makes humans tick, we start to understand why.

Let’s look at the facts: People do not make rational decisions. People text while they drive. Is that text worth the risk of damage to ourselves, property, lives? Clearly not, but it still happens. The majority of people have had unprotected, unplanned sex; neither sensible, rational, nor unusual.

No matter how much we like to think of ourselves as autonomous rational individuals, the scientific truth is that most of our decisions and actions are driven by unconscious cognitive biases. Understanding these universal drivers, and designing engagement frameworks that harness the insights, holds the key to success.

Quantified Self

Let’s look at how these insights are being harnessed in the world outside work. Every action we take leaves a data trail. Cheap ubiquitous sensors have spawned the rapidly growing “quantified self” (QS) movement. Smart phone apps (Moves, Runkeeper, Moodpanda) and wearables (fitness bands, smart watches) can track every action and emotion.

QS harnesses data, behavioural insights and simple game mechanics to motivate and embed lasting behaviour change. More and more people are choosing to collect, track and visualise their own data. By setting concrete goals, quantifying and visualising progress, and comparing that progress with others, people are motivating their own success.

By analysing this burgeoning data storm, we can for the first time in human history understand how people really behave, not how they report behaviours.

Social Physics

MITs Social Physics department concentrates on the potent space between technology, behavioural economics, maths, modelling, and social science. Using millions of data points in living labs, it has monitored human behaviour on an unprecedented scale.

Its research offers powerful behavioural insights, and has shown how they can be harnessed to drive behaviour change in social situations—like work.

Experiments have proved that social incentives are far more effective than individual incentives. For example, a council in Switzerland was trying to persuade citizens to reduce their electricity consumption. Traditional change communications and financial incentives offered to individual households had failed, so they worked with Pentland to try a way that harnessed his research.

Households were asked to buddy up. When a household reduced its energy consumption, a small financial incentive was given to its buddy. The new strategy led to an instant 17% reduction, way more impactful that anything else they’d tried.

This knowledge is potent for those of us tasked with driving organisation-wide technology adoption and change.

Towards The Quantified Enterprise

Knowing that data tracking, visualisation and comparison motivate behaviour change and that social incentives are more effective, we can harness similar mechanics to drive and embed organisational change. QS tools can track employee efficiency, engagement, and satisfaction. By examining the relationship between employees and data, smart organisations can becoming “quantified enterprises” with a clearer idea of where they are, where they are going, and how they can get their faster. This real-time organisational data can support instinct, ideation, and innovation and can provide powerful leadership tools.

Identifying Change Agents

The most successful transformation projects are driven by a growing network of change agents. A common mistake is to assume managers can be given a new title and assigned new responsibilities and a new change agent is born. Unfortunately it’s not that simple.

The most effective change agents display particular attitudes and behaviours. They have digital in their DNA. They are early adopters and influencers. When allowed to shine they are driven, passionate, communicative, empathetic, enthusiastic, collaborative, fearless—and sometimes disruptive.

They naturally display enterprise behaviours and unfortunately all too often are sidelined as outliers.

Identify employees who are already displaying the desired behaviours and recruit them as founder members of an organisation-wide change network. QS tools and mechanics should track and reward them, celebrate incremental improvement, and strengthen bonds across the remote network. This core network should be incentivised to recruit next-level change agents and to grow the network continuously. Social incentives are more powerful than individual incentives, so offer opportunities for change agents to buddy up with new members and apply this knowledge.

Harness Behavioural Insights

One cognitive bias is to think our own ideas are the best, so invite your change agents to co-create engagement and stakeholder alignments and behaviour change plans. The more they feel ownership, the more likely they are to make sure the plans succeed.

Even the simplest reward (a like, a star, a simple message) triggers the release of dopamine. Exploit reward triggers to motivate enterprise behaviours. Make it simple for peers and managers to reward every display of the desired behaviours. Make management decisions based on the data generated. Promote the most active change agents and make sure everyone can see the potential benefits of being an active part of the community. Spread stories of their success.

Moving towards the quantified enterprise offers leaders an invaluable opportunity to visualise the shifting sands of influence, to identify early adopters, and to reward them accordingly. The data generated across this organisational platform will offer a window into the complexities of your organisation in ways never before possible. This people-powered and data-driven platform will support the painless journey to successful transformation.