My whole job is about helping big companies fully leverage big data analytics, and I’ve written specifically about a new Sentient Enterprise capability model to help businesses scale their analytic architectures and insights as they continue to grow. In doing so, even large firms can preserve the agile and opportunity-driven playbook you’ll find at the heart of any successful startup.
Anyone looking to make this happen in a big organization, however, will immediately see the challenge: Agility is easy when you’re a startup with just a few employees and a vision. But what if you’re a large enterprise with many employees, legacy systems and a hardened culture that may be anything but agile? With so many things to both learn and unlearn, this kind of change management is not easily captured in an employee handbook or HR memorandum.
Your job is more like putting an entire culture shift into action at an established company, with fiefdoms to engage and IT policies to overcome. So how do we make it happen?
Here are three suggestions:
Ask the Right Questions
Making real progress starts with a candid assessment of where you are currently. Let’s be honest, these moments of recognition can be incredibly uncomfortable. When I finish talking about the Sentient Enterprise at a seminar or conference, I invariably have people approach me afterward who are literally in shock, saying things like “Oh my gosh, we are so behind the curve. Where do we start?” My answer is that, by realizing the challenge, you’ve already started; the next step is to ask straightforward and honest questions of your business.
Where are the silos and hurdles to agility? Do you have access to the right data, at the right time? What are the policies around copying data? Is our funding structured for innovation and adaptation to new opportunities? How do you recruit, train, manage and retain our data professionals? These are just a few questions you need to include in a “warts and all” checklist that is a crucial first step toward changing things for the better.
Think Big, Start Small, Scale Fast
I co-developed the Sentient Enterprise framework with Mohan Sawhney, director of the Center for Research in Technology & Innovation at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. He’s told me about similar reckonings with business audiences as they realize the immensity of the challenge; one panicked executive buttonholed him after a talk to say she felt like she was at sea level looking up at Mount Everest. Mohan reminded her that even Mount Everest is tackled incrementally, in phases. There are more than a dozen routes to the summit, in fact, with a base camp and four other major camps along the way.
If these targeted, quick and value-driven strategic engagements inside the company resemble how a startup operates out in the real world, that’s exactly the point! In fact, I look at internal partners as “lighthouse customers” whose business problems make up what amounts to a venture portfolio within the company.
Focus on these pockets of agility and peg success to milestones. As for timelines, condense them in a “fail fast, recover fast” approach where you focus like a hawk on one or two things for 30 or 60 days and then adjust your approach based on a granular understanding of what worked and what didn’t. This is much better than trying to monitor a bunch of outcomes over the course of a year or more.
Try some of these tips and you’ll be surprised how quickly the partnerships and success stories add up. You’ll also be happy to see how this early momentum will inspire the rest of the company and drive additional wins throughout the organization.
What are your thoughts? What are some unique ways you are making your business more agile?
Embrace Your Own Internal “Startup” Role Within the Company
Mohan is absolutely right. We may have a tremendous, long-term challenge in front of us; but we have to take it in steps. Instead of trying to fix the whole company at once, pick a key area or two where some business problem happens to be a good candidate for a particular analytics solution you’re working on. Find partners who are close enough to the problem that they’re desperate for your solution and are willing to act as validators at staff meetings, budget sessions or anywhere else you need buy-in. The more you can limit the scope of these early “pockets of agility,” the more quickly you can scale success within them to demonstrate what works best.