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We're Going On A Hippo Hunt!

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We're Going On A Hippo Hunt!

Congratulations! You are now managing your organization in a new age of empiricism. This is an incredible blessing.  And...

8 Minutes Read

Congratulations! You are now managing your organization in a new age of empiricism. This is an incredible blessing.  And an incredible challenge. Over three hundred years after the English philosopher John Locke introduced the then revolutionary idea that real knowledge can only be gained through observation, we are at a point where we can observe everything. Well, perhaps not quite everything; but we’re getting there. Through Code Halos and the data being generated by every digital interaction we are able to see more than we’ve ever been able to see before and to observe things that have never been observable before. The precise spot on a track where a racing car brakes; the exact moment a crack appears in a rotating engine turbine; the actual number of times a song is downloaded; the real way a reader reads a newspaper. 

Code Halos are offering us the opportunity to be certain about things which historically we’ve been uncertain about. Which in the field of management has been pretty much everything. Think about your career so far as an example; the jobs you’ve had, the roles you’ve played, the ladders you’ve climbed and the snakes you’ve slid down. Now think for a moment about the data you had access to at those moments that either helped or hindered you. At times the data was probably pretty good; real sales figures, accurate salary information, detailed seismic logs. But I would warrant that those times were the exception not the rule. I would warrant that the rule was more the times when you looked at the data, scratched your head, and quietly muttered, “You have got to be kidding me; that cannot be right.”

In the pre Code Halo world, not only was the data small, it was often bad. And it often simply didn’t exist. Good data was a rarity, a luxury, a precious commodity to be savored, guarded, and not relied upon too heavily lest it be missed too much when it went MIA. In case you think these pre Code Halo days were a long, long time ago and are irrelevant in this book, ask any sales person in any organization anywhere in the world today about the quality of the sales data they operate with, even those that have deployed the latest and greatest sales software, and you will hear a sobering or amusing (depending on your perspective and frame of mind) story about how bad the data is and how everybody just creates their own work around.

Managers have traditionally had to manage in the absence of good data – or any data at all. Of course many people, and many organizations, have thrived and soared managing in this way. Indeed the art of management, the mysterious, exotic, glamour of management, has all been about knowing when others don’t know. Acting when others can’t act. When they can’t act, because they don’t know, because they don’t have the information, to act. The Randian archetype of the business executive is of someone who has the courage to be certain in the face of uncertainty.

Because of the lack of data most managers have had to deal with most of the time management has been – by necessity – typically an act of opinion. “It is my opinion – my belief – that we should do x”. And in a stand-off between opinions it has been the more senior person who has carried the day. The highest paid person’s opinion has traditionally been the opinion that mattered.

That was in a pre-Code Halo world. Now, in a Code Halo world, management by HIPPO (highest paid person’s opinion, if you didn’t get it) is under attack. HIPPOs will soon be on the endangered list. While the demise of real hippos would be a sad day we should all celebrate the extinction of managerial HIPPOs. The world will be a better place when they are gone. In the Code Halo world where more and more things and activities are observable, management by HIPPO is becoming a sign of weakness; a sign of an old school organization run by old school people for whom an extinction event is a very real possibility. In a Code Halo world pure opinion is a flaw, a bug, a defect; data is all. In a Code Halo world where so much is observable, traceable, recordable, analyzable, where AB testing can be conducted almost ad infinitum, making decisions without data is a cardinal sin.

Code Halo type organizations – like Google, whose analytics guru Avinash Kaushik coined the HIPPO term – are leading the hunt for HIPPOs. Like Google you should trust the data and the algorithm and see that it becomes unacceptable in your organization for decisions to be made on gut, instinct, a sense – opinion – alone. The data is out there. All you have to do is find it and use it. You shouldn’t manage your people and role as a HIPPO. And you should try to challenge your managers (with appropriate career extending caution) when you are managed by a HIPPO.

Implement the following five ideas to lead with data;

Create a heuristic for generating data. Develop repeatable rules and patterns for your people to build and source data. Tell your team precisely what data they should capture, where they will find it, and how they should do it. Promote those people that become consistent data “hounds” and make the reasons behind those promotions clearly attributable to attitudes towards data.

Democratize your key data. You have data, share it internally, even if it’s uncomfortable. Make your sales metrics, delivery metrics, production metrics, and financials available to everyone in your organization. Worried about security leaks? You should be, but, this is how you find them. Some of this data won’t even be looked at, but by making it available – even in a small way – you are helping create an organization where information matters more than an unfounded opinion.

Focus on the code of your Code Halo solution. No decision related to a Code Halo solution should be made without data or pointing out that you do not have data. As soon as your new Code Halo solution is operational become obsessive about collecting and analyzing the data – any data – that it starts to generate. Clearly indicate to your teams that this data is important by making developmental decisions based on this data. Avoid the temptation to go HIPPO at this point.

For every decision worth more than $50,000, require there to be some empirical data considered. One of the pain barriers you need to break through is by transparently not making a key decision by HIPPO when there is no real data to go on. Don’t awkwardly hide that a no decision has been made in this situation. Push back on your team or management and double your efforts to find or generate the data you need to make a decision (one way or the other).

Institute “Sit, Shut-up, And Read” in key meetings.  To highlight the role data should play in the decision making process start every key meeting with a short briefing note that sets out the context of the meeting/decision under consideration, the parameters of the decision, and the available data that supports making the decision. Make everybody stop (for as long as it takes; typically no more than 10 minutes) and read the note.  This approach – started by Code Halo organizations like Google and Linked-In – is a way to make data part of the culture of your organization. Of course, the quality of the data will be variable (sometimes it will be good/sometimes it will be bad/thin) but the mere act of getting people to notice this – by shutting up and reading – will shine a spotlight on the priority of data and thus heighten people’s efforts to collect and act on it.


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