Information – The Lifeblood of Organizations

Recently, I was with an organization that was doing some benchmarking, and we visited the sites of several companies with strong capabilities in supply chain systems and analytics. As I observed the analytical capabilities and listened to the discussions, I thought about the Information & Metrics side of the organization cube.

What became very obvious during our visits is that organizations that manage their supply chain well have great information available to help them make decisions.  With this information flowing constantly into their organizations, they are able to make real-time decisions that lead to positive outcomes.

Shifting to a personal experience, many of us have at times decided to get a little more healthy or fit through exercise or dieting.  At times, I have followed the advice of health experts and kept a food journal.  It is tedious, but amazing how insightful just recording what I take into my body can be as it pertains to behavior change. Seeing my habits on paper has been motivation enough to adjust my habits in healthy ways.

As with a food journal, information about an organization can be an effective catalyst for change.

Three dimensions of information are particularly powerful when it comes to organization transformation.

  1. One dimension is the ability of information to spark insight. When we encounter information that surprises us in some way, or is counter-intuitive, or reveals something we haven’t before seen clearly—these encounters can oftentimes spark an insight that will change the way we frame situations. Back to the food journal: when I start to track what I take in, and I start to see my own behavioral patterns like “Wow, I’m consuming a lot of sugar or fatty foods!” I might have known this truth in some murky way, but now I can see it in black and white. I’m more aware of what I’m consuming and choosing. The insight clicks, and I think differently about myself and my habits. I see them in a new, more truthful light, and it leads to changes in my decision-making and my behavior.
  2. The second aspect of information I think is important to call out is that information can be used to create the impetus for organization change. Because information sparks insights and reveals truths that can change thinking, organizations can leverage information to help a large group of people that need to change direction understand the rationale behind why change is needed. Sometimes in a transformation effort, crucial information is withheld simply because leaders assume that everyone already gets the urgency behind the effort. They keep back the information unintentionally, not recognizing how much power it holds. Many organizations could do a much better job of sharing the information that is motivating change.
  3. The third aspect of information I want to highlight is the power of connecting information with behaviors that drive the right performance. Hearkening back to my visits to the supply-chain companies, one thing I noticed was that there was no shortage of data. There were all kinds of information, reports, statistics—much of it real time—that was or could be available. The key was getting the right things to the right place at the right time at the right cost. An organization could count any number of things—how many steps from the dock to the truck, how many products get damaged, and how long a delivery takes, how much did it cost, where did it show up, and did it arrive on time. You can go on and on and on with data, but the real question is, do you have the information that will drive the right decisions and behavior? Because if information doesn’t lead to needed behavioral change. that information is just noise in the system.

So when leaders of a transformation effort take up the topic of information and metrics in order to align the organization’s practices to strategy, they’ll want to consider capturing and distributing information that 1) is surprising or counter-intuitive and thus sparks insight, 2) builds the case for change so people understand a rationale, and 3) is connected back to the behaviors that will drive the desired performance.