The Action Driven Enterprise
Posted 30 April 2019 by Walter Beek
Becoming an Action Driven Enterprise will be critical for organisational survival. It takes the output of the Data-Driven Enterprises and turns it into actionable items. To make that transformation requires leadership, tooling and a different way of working.
There is a lot of talk about the Data-Driven Enterprise and don’t get me wrong: being Data-Driven is important. Ask my board members. However, my hypothesis is that organisations that execute best will win. Data-Driven is important, but not as important as being Action Driven.
As per our good friend Wikipedia, “data-driven means that progress in an activity is compelled by data, rather than by intuition or by personal experience.”
I don’t want to get into the conversation that intuition plays at least an important role. Entrepreneurs have a different intuition than managers. And we all know who starts enterprises that result in changing the world. Let’s first focus on the data vs. action paradigm.
At Lemongrass we aim to create a data-driven culture
Data is important, no matter what. And we do want to create a data-driven culture. As part of our MiCloud tooling we have developed many ways to enable that. Not least through our eNPS or Employee Net Promotor Score as a key input into Data-Driven HR. And we apply that same NPS approach to our customers and partners.
Another key aspect of this culture is our drive for proven outcomes. When a team member ‘declares to have delivered’, we often ask them a simple question: “Show me”. Diving deep and exploring the evidence of that statement is important. So that everybody knows that a statement always needs to be supported by data.
We spend a lot of time on making sure that the key customer experience, such as management of AWS cost, is enabled as well. We were early innovators in this space. Our exposure of day-to-day cost data to our customer executives and managers via an easy to use and ‘always on’ mobile app is still unique.
Let’s home in on this one: the AWS cost data is there for all to see.
So why is it that some of our customers take weeks or – literally in one case more than 8 months to turn the data that is clearly visible to them into an outcome?
Data without action is like petrol without its car engine
It gets you nowhere. Data in itself, even if deeply analysed, well presented and conclusive, doesn’t achieve anything.
It is the subsequent observing and actioning of that data, and proven delivery against that action through a new data point, that delivers the value and outcomes. Something like this:
Data Driven is important, but not as important as being Action Driven. Driving actions is what managers do. And becoming action driven, as we and others have found out, is really, really hard.
AI and ML will create an Action Driven Enterprise
Management amongst others can be defined as ‘getting things done through people’. If people know what needs to be done…
Here is another hypothesis: if each member of your team understands their action, the desired outcome and proof point, as well as the follow-on action, then you don’t need managers.
And here is where the use of data gets really interesting: we are all striving towards a high level of Artificial Intelligence (‘AI’) and Machine Learning (‘ML”). You need ‘big data’ to make that work, so here is where data driven comes back in.
Effectively implementing AI and ML means you replace the managerial ‘Observe’ and ‘Action’ circles in the above diagram with automation.
So, does that mean that to prepare yourself for AI and ML, you need to become an Action Driven Enterprise? And you need to change your culture, way of working and thinking towards ‘Observe’ and ‘Action’? I would think so, and this makes becoming an Action Driven Enterprise a critical enabler of survival.
At Lemongrass we aim to create an action driven culture
The overriding aspect is that becoming Action Driven requires a fundamental change in the way we think about ‘productive work’: more time for thoughtful consideration and less madly running from one ‘important meeting’ to the next ‘even more important meeting’. Perhaps even do fewer meetings or try to do less. Do what you plan to do well: by completing your actions and demonstrating the outcomes.
Becoming Action Driven, as we are finding out, is really, really hard for a number of reasons which are listed below. By the way, we have not always found a solution for either.
1. Becoming an Action Driven Enterprise requires a ‘single point of action’ – Many teams and organisations produce action lists in emails, Word documents and Excel spreadsheets; if you are a participant in many meetings, projects and ‘ecosystems’ you end up with an unmanageable list; we have created an enterprise actions platform, MiRAAID, as part of our MiCloud toolset that enables everybody to look at risks, actions, assumptions and decisions from multiple angles; a good starting point;
2. Focusing in on actions drives measurable accountability – If you do not have actions, or do not deliver against actions, then you can question your reason for being in the role you are in; to become an Action Driven Enterprise, you need to overcome a subconscious defence mechanism that I think is at play and that promotes managers shying away from focus on taking, recording and measuring the outcome of their and others actions;
3. Recording actions requires admission that you cannot do them all – Once you start religiously taking note of your actions, you soon identify you have too many and as a result it becomes clear you cannot deliver; for many this will result in a sense of failure, which will strengthen the pattern under my previous point; for a few this results in the realisation that either actions need to be re-planned, or capacity needs to be increased; these few take constructive action and become the new leaders;
4. Requiring actions question the need for conversations and meetings – I will give you a challenge: observe a meeting or conversation within your team, and mentally take note of the actionable items that are discussed; then look at how many actionable items are recorded; now try and trace them to see which ones really get delivered with tangible proof or supporting data; if a meeting or conversation does not result in actionable items, and if the actionable items are not completed and delivered against, then having meetings is a waste of time and resources;
5. Managing action requires time – Many of my colleague’s diaries consist of back to back meetings; as we have just observed above, a meeting should always result in actionable items: turning actions from a meeting into ‘truly actionable items’ takes time; and more often than not, one action either triggers a follow on or requires a prerequisite action; and thinking about who owns it requires careful consideration; should every meeting end with 30 minutes ‘actioning time’ for everybody; and then you need to make time to approve completed actions, review the outcome etc., etc.: being Action Driven is time consuming;
6. Work with, not replace the email system – Emails cannot be replaced, so whatever system you implement, it needs to work with the email system, not against it; our MiRAAID tool does that, not yet in a perfect way but it is getting close; you also need to teach people to trust the action management tool, and to stop the need to cc or even worst, bcc, the whole world on an action; trust the action owner to do the necessary communication for you; as an added benefit, the number of emails in your inbox will drastically decrease;
7. Get buy in from everybody to work hard to try and learn to work differently – A cultural change has to be driven from the top down, but that in itself is not enough; as part of that top down approach, completing and updating actions can become a formal SLA between all members of your team; but you also need to ensure buy in bottom up; you need to sell the benefits of becoming an Action Driven Enterprise.
8. Deploy this new way of working in an agile way – There is no fixed path to making the change; the key thing is to start walking the walk and talking the talk; accept that along the way mistakes will be made; approach this in an agile way by launching the minimal viable product, use it, and improve on it; the key thing is to be open, self-critical and focused on solutions; each observation should lead to an action.
And this is where this article comes in. Hopefully, it will help my team understand why I am so passionate about it, and it will help us get to the point of universal buy in and understanding.
I will keep you posted.
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