Data Is King

Dec 06, 2012 1 Comment by

“Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts.” –Einstein

Change Agents need data.

They need data that gives insight into change adoption factors such as:

  • How many people will be affected by this change?
  • In what different ways will stakeholders be impacted?
  • How hard will this change be for people?
  • Do people know where to go for help?
  • What are the most effective ways to reach all the people that may need help?
  • How clear have we been so far with communication?
  • What perceptions do stakeholders have about the alignment between this change and the strategic direction of the organization?
  • Who’s doing well on their journey to adopt the change and who’s still struggling?
  • Where can I expect the most resistance to the change and where can I find change champions?

…and so forth.

While having mountains of data doesn’t necessarily lead to successful change, it can be the basis for determining which areas of stakeholder readiness may need to be addressed as you guide your change.

Change Agent Tip #60: Gather Real Data About Your Change.

Real data is critical because it leads to finding real information and building true understanding about what’s going on within your stakeholder community.

Yes, there’s a difference between data and information!  We’ll talk more about that later, but today I’d like to tackle the first of five steps that Change Agents can take to G.U.I.D.E. their change with real data.

I’ve summed up the process in this nifty little diagram:

Gathering useful information does exactly what the entomology of the word implies it should do: it informs the process.  It helps us understand stakeholder needs so we can make informed decisions that can be executed to help stakeholders adapt. If applied properly, the information, the decisions and the actions will help leaders and Change Agents enable their change within their given set of constraints.

In a later post, I’ll get into how change agents can turn data into information, but let’s start by considering ways to gather data about your change.

Here are four data-collection techniques that have worked well for me:

1. Observation: Change Agents should get to know the key players in their change as well as the general atmosphere into which the change is being introduced. I typically build a “stakeholder map” to track who is connected in what way to the change.  Then I walk through the organizational structure, watching for behavioral cues that may work in favor of change adoption (or against it).

I also engage in informal “water cooler talk” and listen for clues that might apply to our change. This collective body of anecdotal data will not by itself tell the whole story about what’s going on, but it will provide multiple data points that can feed into the information-gathering process. It also points to places where I should probably do some more focused digging.

2. Scaled Survey Questions: One of the fastest ways to gather large quantities of data about stakeholder sentiment is to use surveys. I try keep them short and focus on a few key areas where I need broad feedback. I’ve used all sorts of collection vehicles from online surveys and paper handouts in meetings to anonymous postcards and even big blank pieces of butcher paper on the wall in the back of a conference room.

Here are a few examples of some online/paper survey questions I’ve used:

I prefer to use “Likert Scale” questions like those above to encourage stakeholders to declare an opinion, while allowing the safety of a neutral response.

3. Open-Ended Survey Questions: Whenever I do surveys, I also mix in several open-ended questions to allow stakeholders to vent, celebrate or express their opinion in any way that suits them. (Open-ended = they can’t be addressed with a yes/no answer.)

This data is far more challenging to parse. I also have to be careful not to read too much into the strongly-expressed opinions that often appear in this data, but it’s a better way to get an accurate feel for what people are thinking then multiple-choice questions. Open-ended questions are appropriate for use with all of the collection vehicles I mentioned above.

Examples of open-ended questions include:

  • “What have you heard so far about this change?”
  • “Tell me how you guys might be impacted by this change…”
  • “What’s going to make this change tough for some folks?”
  • “Who else should I talk to about this stuff?”
  • … etc.

4. Focused Interviews: An even better way to gather good raw data about the environment for your change is to conduct face-to-face interviews. I’ve done these on the phone too but I definitely prefer face to face dialogue so I can get a read on body language, build rapport with key stakeholders, etc. 

Interviews can be very labor-intensive and they can yield the same difficult-to-parse data that open-ended questions deliver, but the value of these face-to-face conversations cannot be overlooked. Direct dialogue – especially with your most critical stakeholders is still by far the best source of real data about their needs. Interviews also help to build the trust that will be needed for successful change.

Summary:  Nothing beats accurate data as a starting point for making well-informed decisions about where to focus a Change Agent’s time, attention and resources.  When I gather data relative to a change that I am helping a client implement, I typically use four primary sources: observations, scalar surveys, open-ended surveys and interviews.  The best tools for a given audience may vary.

It’s a idea to use multiple instruments just in case a given stakeholder or group of stakeholders respond to a given tool with more useful data.  In my next post, I’ll get into ways that Change Agents can turn the pile of raw data that they collect about their change into useful information.

…next time we’ll discuss the huge difference between data and information

– Steve

Questions for Chatter:

  • Is it possible to gather too much data about your change?
  • What other tools or techniques have you used to dig up useful data about your changes? Which have worked best for you?

Change Agent Skills, Change Communication, Change Execution, Change Leadership, Stakeholder Readiness, Team Dynamics

About the author

I help people and teams succeed with big changes... never a dull moment!

One Response to “Data Is King”

  1. Shiny Object Syndrome | theBigRocks of Change says:

    […] 6.  Collect Data: Insist that you be allowed to gather real data on change adoption. (Here’s an earlier post on this subject called “Data is King”.) […]

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