New Data, Same Old Dumb Bosses: 3 Lessons - InformationWeek

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08:06 AM
Grumpy IT Guy
Grumpy IT Guy

New Data, Same Old Dumb Bosses: 3 Lessons

Corporate overlords finally take an interest in data. Too bad they don't understand it and will be tricked by crafty short-timers.

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Look! Data everywhere! Import it from your phone app; slice and dice it from your website; and soon, you will need a "warehouse" for Internet of Things data. Time, energy, and money: all targeted at nothing less of a goal than True Understanding of Customers and Business Direction. But since when did more data and better tools change the way that dumb people act? Let us review three lessons.

First lesson: Correlation is not causation. Yes, smart companies have been using big data and analytics in innovative ways. But did the big data make the companies smart, or did smart companies start using big data? It is like a four-year-old trying to put on makeup: it is highly unlikely that dumb companies are going to start getting good results because they start using the same tools as the grown-ups. A bunch of face smears and mama chuckling is about all you will see.

Second lesson: Metrics don't motivate. Give me a data collection source, the ability to set metrics, and the power to tie the metrics back to compensation, and I will move ... people to act dumb. I have seen this again and again in my career. A performance metric is not the same thing as whole-picture motivation.

[Is it the apps? Or is it you? Read Technology Training: Why We're In Hell.]

Lazy, dumb bosses don't want to do the hard work involved in performance evaluation, so they turn to metrics. "Oh, your first call resolution is down this month, I can't give you a good evaluation." "All I asked was that you increase the profitability." Except smart employees learn how to game the system. Ask them to close work orders quickly in order to get a good review, and they damn well will. At the expense of customers, if necessary. Ask them to increase profitability and judge them on that, and you will see that they will increase profitability. At the expense of the long-term well-being of the company, the customer, their fellow employees, you name it.

Third lesson: Data misdirection often wins. "Hi! Here are my three data points that support my position. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain while we ignore the other five data points that undermine my position." Through trickery and deceit, the crafty among those of us at BigCorp have used data misdirection to rise through the ranks. Don't worry, they haven't worked anywhere longer than two years, and they will be gone by the time anyone notices that things are not as they seem.

All of this adds up to "data-washing." Lazy executives go as gooey-eyed as a nerd on his first prom date when they hear about data. Data looks like it gives easy answers. Data looks like pushing a button. Data looks like open-wallet-get-results.

But no. IT does not work like that.

It is not puppy love that is needed. It is tough love. Do not enable the puppy love.

Tell execs: Stop thinking that you can data-wash your initiative. Stop thinking that you can short-circuit a broken business process by collecting more data and adding analytical tools.

Ask them if they think that you can push a button and break new ground on a new factory? Then ask them why they believe that data can make everything better with a push of the button? "Data" looks a lot like servers and hard drives and people bulldozing business process and steamrollering stupidity.

Tell them: any successful data solution will only be 20% technology, and 80% sweat equity, with a lot of the sweat equity coming from THEM.

Then see if they are still in puppy love.

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Grumpy IT Guy avoided historic disasters and clueless people while working his way up the IT ranks, but he retained his keen sense of humor. He now leads an IT organization somewhere in America, as part of the FBI's Grump Protection Program. Need advice? Send questions to ... View Full Bio
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User Rank: Author
12/29/2014 | 9:33:45 AM
Data Washing
Data washing gets easier when only select people have access to the data in discussion, or when groups are working off multiple versions of the same data. That's when people spend 90% of their time arguing over "what is really happening," rather than what companies want -- to spend 90% of their time discussing what to do about what is happening. Having one agree upon version of the truth is critical.     
User Rank: Author
12/29/2014 | 9:25:48 AM
new and old
Great points! Yes, workers do learn to game the system to the disadvantage of the customers and the long term.
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