I had the honor recently to give the kickoff keynote for the #ExigentMashUp2019 event hosted by my new friends at Exigent Group Limited. It was a unique event purposely designed to bring people together with diverse professional backgrounds, personal experience and ways of thinking. Legal and data. Right brain and left brain. Analytical and creative. Since I’m all about turning conventional ideas upside down, I was right at home. Exigent is defining legal innovation and redefining what data means to business and growth. As someone who’s been an expert for complex litigation, navigated numerous M&A deals, negotiated partnerships and managed IP portfolios, I immediately see the value of leveraging data in legal matters.
But then again, I love data. Fortunately, Exigent invited me to share steps for leveraging data to unify your organization and I’m happy to share these steps here at EverRise. While these steps are geared toward leveraging data, the same 6 steps apply to any initiative involving organizational change and culture shift.
Yes, I heart data. As a graduate student, I could spend hours, days, weeks crunching numbers to loud music. I couldn’t wait to see where the numbers landed. Would my hypothesis be supported? Or was there another story hidden in my data? As I moved forward in my research career, I had the luxury of being surrounded by experts in other scientific and engineering disciplines. We would dissect and interrupt the data through our unique experienced lenses and our combined knowledge helped pull out a more complete, meaningful story from the ocean of data. The data united us because we all understood the mutually beneficial outcomes it could help us achieve.
Now the volumes of data I deal with represent global sales across numerous markets or waves of research activity across numerous disciplines. The data is vast. The data is complicated. The data is scattered. The data is incomplete. And, in some cases, the data is garbage.
And that’s the challenge with data. It’s omnipresent and yet heralds no inherent value until it’s gathered, categorized and analyzed. That’s when data becomes a unifier; when functions across the business can see what the data can do for them.
The data I mine and view through the lenses of multiple functions – R&D, legal, manufacturing, marketing, sales – is often a mess of complexity, almost inaccessible or doesn’t exist. The data is collected merely as a consequence of doing business and is never viewed as a valuable asset of the business. Worse still? It’s housed across countless platforms and databases in separated business units, effectively imprisoned in silos within silos. Sound familiar?
The reason, as a scientist and R&D leader, this upsets me is that data holds stories that guide my team toward the next discovery and innovative product. Not only are we unable to make informed decisions, we are flat out missing opportunities. I think of data as an ocean with shipwrecks containing buried treasure. I don’t know what the treasure is, but I’m sure it’s there. However, we don’t have a reliable boat or a compass, let alone GPS, radar or underwater subs.
In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins uses the now-popular metaphor of getting the right people on the bus. When it comes to data, I prefer to go with my boat on the ocean. So how do we use data, or the ocean, to unite functions and leadership across an organization? Here are six practical steps you can take to start using data as a unifier:
- Change the view: We can’t use data as a unifier if we view data as a product of doing business rather than a highly valued business asset. It’s an ocean with vast information to be explored, leveraged and protected. As leaders, every single conversation, correspondence, and presentation should be reframed with data as a highly valuable asset. Change the language and perspective, and the behavior will change.
- Get the right crew: We can’t use data to unite an organization if we don’t have the right people. You have to have a cross-section of the business – from legal to R&D, manufacturing to marketing on board before you embark on a data journey. Taking from Jim Collins, you also have to have the right people in the right jobs on the boat and take the wrong people off the boat.
- Help them work together: Many think access to data or the lack thereof is someone else’s job. It isn’t. It’s as much a problem for legal as it is for R&D as it is for marketing. Work together to understand what data is available, how you can access more data, and what questions you need to ask of this data to get the mutually beneficial answers you’re looking for.
- Empower them: There’s nothing that unites an organization more than being empowered and engaged. After you have the right people, empower them to leverage your data assets and give them the right tools and methods to do their job. This might be data gathering tools, or AI-based analytics tools or even something much simpler like the time to meet with the other business functions to discuss their aims for the data.
- Give them time: Don’t give them a compass and oars and expect them to pull up treasure the next day. Set the vision of where you’re going and link their exploration and discoveries to the overall mission of the organization. Frame the initial exploration around a value that the company holds deep – revenues, cost savings or competitive advantage, for example.
- Use the discovery: Don’t change the view, get the right people, make discoveries and then ignore what they find. The team will uncover treasures, but they may also find things you’d rather send back to the bottom of the ocean. Use their findings to inform decisions and direction. In addition, creatively view the findings, good or bad, as opportunities to create new value.
And that’s the crux of what data can bring; new value to your business. Data drives new methodologies, smarter thinking, and insights that highlight more creative decision making and offer new ways of doing business. While traditionally legal might have had a specific approach to IP, for example, Data might offer insights on your existing IP versus your competitor’s IP and help you creatively craft new offensive and defensive positions to protect your organization. Data might help you save costs by renegotiating vendor contracts or conducting vendor selection based on the best cost and quality ratios.
Creative thinking might not necessarily be a skill readily associated with the traditional legal profession, but data is the springboard to creativity. Dissecting and analyzing information will unite the diverse teams and departments under the shared goal of getting the answers you need from the data you have.
It’s only by working in partnership with your equals and opposites within the business, and navigating the data together can you make discoveries that inform decisions and create new value. Ultimately, we’re in unchartered waters when it comes to the power of data, but one thing is certain; if data is a resource you’re wasting, it won’t be long before your ship goes under.
Understanding how to lead in times of change means sensing where our teams are in their developmental journey and the ability to engage them in the process: are they ready to use that new tool or will they reject it, struggle to integrate it in their daily routine and ultimately oppose it because they don’t understand the bigger picture?
-Nicola Stott, Global Managing Director at Exigent