In 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer released The Wizard of Oz. Towards the end of the film the protagonists finally arrive at their desired location, in order to meet the great Wizard of Oz. Confronted with the ominous presence of the great wizard, Toto the tiny dog casually makes his way over to a concealed curtain in the corner. Next, he slowly pulls aside the curtain, revealing an old erratic man frantically pulling levers, and twisting dials whilst yelling into a microphone. And thus, the Great Wizard of Oz was revealed in his true form, warts and all.

No alt text provided for this image

This is a great analogy for the emergence of data in the corporate and commercial worlds. In 2006 Clive Humby coined the phrase ‘data is the new oil,’ and the growth of Google, Amazon, and Facebook (to name a few) are all testament to the lures associated with this largely misunderstood resource.

The temptation for many organisations is to ‘collect data’ and present it on sexy dashboards with various graphs, presentations, and tables. This is often done in response to:

  • First sight of a competitor’s capabilities and the urge to create a similar capability because it must be what is serving them well.
  • The need to look busy or proactive
  • The desire to feel informed in order to better understand
  • Supporting decision-making

The creation of these tools is expensive, distracting, and without focus and prioritisation can be dangerous rabbit holes in which to get lost in.

In 1978 The Hitchhikers Guide to Galaxy was released by Douglas Adams, originally presented as a radio comedy broadcast on BBC4. A comical scene exists whereby an alien race develops a supercomputer called ‘Deep-thought’ in order to answer the ambiguous questions to ‘the great question – of life the universe and everything’. After 7.5 million years of processing time, it comes back with the disappointing answer of ’Forty-Two’.

Deep-thought goes on to explain,

No alt text provided for this image

“I think that the problem is that you have never really known what the question is…You have to know what the question actually is, in order to know what the answer means”

So herein lies the problem. So many organisations are frantically collecting as much data as they can without any coherent understanding as to why, or for what purpose.

THE IMPORTANCE OF STRATEGY

Strategy should underpin everything that we do with our teams. The link between operational efforts and our strategy direction should be strong, coherent, and measurable.

As a minimum our organisational strategies should include:

  • Vision – Where we are heading
  • Mission – Why we do what we do and how do we know when we have got there.
  • Scope or Services – How we do it
  • Objectives & goals – The nuts and bolts of how we will grow our influence, value to others, and our teams. Also, how we intend to measure it.

Our organisational strategies need to deeply influence our decision-making. Data serves the purpose of reinforcing decision making by:

  • Creating faster decision loops
  • Distinguishing between different courses of action
  • Disproving assumptions and turning them into facts
  • Measuring the success and validity of our objectives and goals
  • Sensing where emerging opportunities are presenting themselves
  • Linking with our understanding of risks and opportunities

But in order to achieve all this, data must be used as a surgical weapon, not a blunderbuss/shotgun approach. Failure to do so will only cause more problems than you had originally.

POOR DATA COLLECTION

Data is not the silver bullet people often choose to rest their projects and careers on. Any statistician worth their salt will describe how information can be manipulated to tell the desired story. Moreover poor or lazy collection of information will lead to terribly unreliable outcomes. For example:

  1. Size of the pool. If the pool of information is too small, it will not provide an accurate depiction in which to make reliable deductions as it is not representative of the demographics or groups you are seeking information from.
  2. Length of the analysis. If you are capturing information from a very small period of time, then it is likely affected by environment and external influences which will lead to a false reading. If you ever need an example of this, refer to those people that follow the stock market every few minutes, but have committed to a longer-term strategy. The fluctuations do not tell an accurate story of the growth or decline of a particular group of shares.
  3. Scope of the study. When the scope of the study, or the question you are trying to answer is poorly defined, you are likely to collect data that doesn’t serve a purpose. Refer to ‘Depp-Thought.’
  4. Methods of collection. There are countless different mechanisms of collecting data and then analysing it. If the wrong method is chosen, then it will significantly distort the results. There are professions that specialise in data collection for a reason. They use different tools to achieve different things!
  5. Reliability of the sources. If the information is pooled from dubious sources then the validity of the findings will be questioned later. It is very much a case of ‘crap in, crap out.’

ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS

Before diving into data-collection we must know why we are committing to it.

The questions must be geared towards answering an overarching concern or opportunity and should directly link to our project scope or organisational strategy.

The questions must be geared towards refining and tightening the scope of the collection in order to narrow the ambiguity of the project.

To get started you could ask:

  • What information do I need to collect, in order to answer what question?
  • What decisions need to be made? What information is required to help make that decision?
  • What information do we not need to collect? What don’t we need to collect?
  • How much information do we need in order to answer the question? When can we stop and make the decision?
  • Does this information perform an important function, or is just creating white noise? (hint: link to decision making).
  • Can I further tighten the filters and variables in order to target a specific question?

HUMAN BEHAVIOUR

The list of human shortfalls that affect data are too lengthy to mention. But here are two very important ones that are often overlooked, bias and subjectivity…

Bias

Bias comes in all different forms including everything from ‘confirmation bias’ where we actively look for information that confirms our original hypothesis or stance, through to ‘selection bias’ when data is selected subjectively, and everything in between.

Needless to say, that our own personal biases completely undermine our ‘objectivity’ if not cross referenced against other sources or mechanisms.

Examples of this occurring include (source: Cmotions):

·      Poorly articulated questions in questionnaires

·      Choosing people from a demographic that will support our claim or stance

·      Breaking people into poorly defined or irrelevant groupings

·      Measuring things incorrectly

·      Non-random selections

Subjectivity

Everyone is experiencing the world in very different ways. Moreover, the way we feel at a certain time can have significant implications on the way that we collect information, engage with participants, and interpret information.

If you want accurate and useful data you need:

·      A plan (the right tool for the right job)

·      Structure (sequencing and staging)

·      Objectivity (multiple sources of data, and quality checking collector’s activities)

·      Quality assurance

·      Professionalism and Discipline (stick the plan and don’t jump to assumptions)

If you do not have these things as a minimum, your efforts are likely in vain, and you are likely wasting everyone’s time.

CONCLUSION

Data is a new fad.

It sounds cool, but most of the time it doesn’t mean anything or serve any purpose because we don’t give it the respect or attention it deserves.

If you are collecting data without knowing why. Stop. Reassess. Fix it.

I would suggest that if you are looking for data that prove to yourself that you are doing great work then you are likely using it for the wrong reason.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to join us in other thought-provoking pieces, please join us at our blog.

I recently saw an amazing post by Ian Mathews which prompted me to write this article.

Before becoming a Management Consultant, I was an Infantry Army Officer within the Australian Army.

My early years within the Army were founded in an education into military strategy and tactics. Many veterans would have experienced this for themselves. I can say with absolute confidence, that the lessons I learnt during this time have significantly shaped the way I perceive the world, most notably those interactions between organisations in highly competitive markets. This is not to say that organisations cannot co-exist, cooperate, or operate with an abundance mindset, but it is to recognise the fact that the actions of one organisation can directly impact the operational effectiveness of another. And, if we agree that the interactions between organisations, coupled with unique approaches to market ultimately decide our own team’s fate, then I feel it is something worth learning about.

During my first four years in the Army, a number of fundamental lessons were taught regarding the different types of warfare and strategic approaches. These lessons were further investigated throughout my career and were regularly cross-referenced against our operational efforts at the time.

History has shown that the differences in strategic approach inevitably decide the outcomes of almost every major military and international effort. My observations accrued from working inside the commercial and corporate world as a relative outsider have shown me that there is a reluctance to change strategy or consider different approaches often at the long-term detriment of the organisation. Furthermore, there is often a lack of willingness to learn new more simplistic methods of operation or approach. Conversely, those organisations that are willing to consider different perspectives and approaches often leave their competitors in their wake as they seemingly glide their way to success. The most damning situation of all is the vast number of organisations that aren’t operating with any strategy at all…

For the companies that are doing well, the reason they seem to glide so effortlessly towards their goals is because they are able to answer one fundamental question:

“How can we best use our precious resources in order to achieve the strategic outcomes we seek?”

With this said, I want to take the opportunity to introduce a number of different military methodologies and in turn demonstrate their utility in a corporate and commercial context.

ATTRITION WARFARE

“Attrition warfare is a military strategy consisting of belligerent attempts to win a war by wearing down the enemy to the point of collapse through continuous losses in personnel and material. The war will usually be won by the side with greater resources (Military-SF, 2007). The word attrition comes from the Latin root ‘atterere’, meaning to rub against, similar to the “grinding down” of the opponent’s forces in attrition warfare (Merriam Webster Dictionary).”

World War 1 and many sections of World War 2 were prime examples of attrition warfare. During these campaigns, an enemy would simply try and saturate an enemy force by bringing as much force to bear on them as possible until their systems and team’s collapse. Attrition warfare unequivocally favours the larger force and requires less imagination and agility in order to conduct. The resource cost is immense but if conducted in the right context (with the right force offset) can result in decisive victory, whereby an opposing force can be completely incapacitated in one location and in one event. There is a catch though, when a decisive victory is not achieved it results in prolonged wars that can extend for years with organisation’s ‘digging in’ and are incredibly difficult to dislodge.

In the commercial and corporate context attrition takes the form of monopolised businesses that are so massive and occupy so much of the market, there is no practical way for smaller organisations to try and compete with them by using direct or overt methods. Examples would include (but are not limited to):

  • Certain types of paid advertising
  • Sponsorship of events
  • Undertaking certain types of legal action
  • Poaching high-end staff by way of salary incentives

Attrition as a practical commercial strategy is almost solely limited to those incredibly large organisations with huge resources on hand. The very same organisations that advertise during the Super Bowl as an example.

MANOEUVRE WARFARE

Manoeuvre Warfare refers to a strategy aimed at unbalancing, unhinging, or outmanoeuvring an enemy. It was developed in response to emerging middle-sized conventional armies that were adamant in avoiding the huge losses associated with attrition warfare. It pays particular attention to identifying and defining the root purpose of a campaign and finding different ways to achieve the same aim. It is commonly referred to as targeting an enemy’s ‘Centre of Gravity’, which is loosely defined as that ‘thing’ that gives them the will or the ability to fight.

 

History has seen different militaries use Manoeuvre Warfare in different ways. Some armies have made use of:

  •  Physical Dislocation. Geared at removing the key assets or logistics that enable them to operate.
  •  Temporal Dislocation. Being faster to move than the enemy, particularly in achieving important terrain, milestones, or assets ahead of time.
  •  Moral Dislocation. Attacking the enemy’s will to win, or fight. This often includes a significant effort to get into the minds of the key decision-makers and shape their decisions.

Each of these different methods may be run simultaneously, and all of them have emphasis placed on surprise and making faster decisions than their competitors.

In the commercial and corporate context, we see manoeuvre characteristics in those organisations that are adept in prioritisation and channelling their efforts towards those outcomes that will have a disproportionate impact in support of their strategy. These organisations know their strengths and weaknesses and magnify their results exponentially by focusing their precious resources towards 2 or 3 outcomes. Manoeuvre in this sense allows organisations to start capturing market share from bigger competitors, and the market share they capture will be more tailored towards where they can have the highest impact.

GUERRILLA WARFARE

“Guerrilla warfare is a form of irregular warfare in which small groups of combatants, such as paramilitary personnel, armed civilians, or irregulars, use military tactics including ambushes, sabotage, raids, petty warfare, hit-and-run tactics, and mobility, to fight a larger and less-mobile traditional military (Wiki).”

The concept of Guerrilla style tactics was heavily publicised in the works of Sun Tzu who suggested that a much smaller force could win against a much larger competitor if it made absolute use of all its available resources and was able to move faster before they could respond properly.

 

Guerrilla warfare is based on an idea that smaller teams can create significant issues for their enemies providing they stay under the ‘detection threshold’. They almost always have significantly sparse resources and they rely heavily on the use of supporters, partners, and sympathisers. Their support networks are often incredibly loyal and ideologically linked with their fighting purpose.

In the corporate or commercial context, it means that smaller more agile organisations can achieve huge proportionate impacts providing they are willing to remain agile, dynamic and are able to incentivise people behind their cause. It also means that smaller boutique agencies can provide highly tailored services to organisations who are not keen on paying premium prices.

In many ways, this has been one of the founding success features of The Eighth Mile Consulting as we endeavour to support areas of the market that are not detected by the larger players in the industry. This in turn with our support from partner organisations has meant that we can seize opportunities quickly, provide valuable services and maintain our loyal support network (providing we continue to give value regularly). With this as context our organisational values and ethos make sense:

  • Service – Client tailored service delivery
  • Initiative – Find a need, fill a need
  • Integrity – We do what we promise
  • Accountability – Actively seek responsibility

CONCLUSION

I have not even scratched the surface on the intricacies associated with each of these strategies or the myriad of other strategies available, but I am sure we can agree that there is a utility in their application within a corporate and commercial context.

Now it might seem counter-intuitive to suggest that these strategies do not always have to be adopted in an overtly aggressive manner against others. The more astute readers will recognise that in the corporate and commercial context that these strategies often speak more to how we operate our own teams and strategies and are less geared towards destroying your competitors. I firmly believe in the concept of an abundance mindset, but I also acknowledge that the actions of one organisation can have far-reaching implications on our own. So, this being said I would suggest that understanding of these strategies:

  • Helps us prioritise our efforts towards the effect we are seeking to achieve.
  • Reduces our scope of operations towards those things that will provide the most significant impact and effect.
  • Encourages us to recognise our strengths and weaknesses, and therefore assist us in finding our relevance.
  • Promote early adoption of detecting those routes that will provide the paths of least resistance.
  • Incentivise us to think outside the box instead of always reinventing the wheel.

‘The enemy’ in the corporate or commercial context might not be your competitors, but it might be your environment and its ever-changing conditions.

If we look at it from this angle, we open the door to huge opportunities to reinvent our brands, define our team’s purpose, and provide an enduring legacy.

For those interested in developing unique business strategies please feel free to reach out and discuss with me or my team. 

For other articles and daily posts please follow David Neal and  Jonathan Clark.

 

Panel Discussion at The Eighth Mile Consulting Aligned Leaders Summit

For those who were unable to make it to the Aligned Leaders Summit, we have recorded a number of presentations, including the panel discussion at the end where Peter Keith, Jonathan Clark, David Neal, Trehan Stenton, Neil Salkow and Samantha Pickering answer questions from the audience regarding lessons in leadership and how to support the desired values within our workplaces.

The questions discussed include:

  • 00:55 – What are some of the ways you can incentivise staff?
  • 04:35 – What would you classify as the single most defining leadership behaviour?
  • 09:42 – What do you do to increase self-awareness?
  • 14:20 – How do you pick up on team members’ well-being states and at what stage do you intervene?
  • 18:30 – At what stage in leadership should you start thinking about succession planning?
  • 21:45 – Do you feel we currently are in a mid-cycle economic slowdown with a quick recovery on the other side, or in a position with far more detrimental lasting impact?
  • 23:20 – What is the single most important discipline action that you do for you on a routine basis?
  • And many more…

About Aligned Leaders Summit

The Eighth Mile Consulting has brought together a team of experts to provide an event for Leaders to improve the strategic alignment of their teams, create a culture that fosters resilience, and learn ways to survive, stabilise and grow during times of uncertainty.

For more helpful videos to help you grow your people and your organisation subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Do you have questions you would have liked to ask the panel at the Aligned Leaders Summit? Let us know in the comments below!

David Neal and Jonathan Clark from The Eighth Mile Consulting explain how projects link to people and the overarching strategy.

At our recent Aligned Leaders Summit, we had a number of conversations with our attendees during the lunch break that brought to the surface the question of what it is that’s stopping most projects from moving forward and what we see being the largest issues when it comes to managing projects.

Many projects that we have encountered, and do encounter on a daily basis, do not consider these three main areas, which we explain further in this short presentation:

  1. Strategy
  2. Projects
  3. People

In this video, we explain exactly how your projects link to your people and your overarching strategy.

For more helpful videos to help you grow your people and your organisation subscribe to our YouTube channel.

What are your thoughts or learnings when it comes to managing projects in your organisation? Let us know in the comments below!