Employees need three things to be flexible: sufficient information, accessible communication and the freedom to take action — the terms “democratization of data” and “fluid organization” embody this idea.
Many areas of life, from military to manufacturing, have benefitted from the implementation of a democratic information-share system.
Team of Teams by General Stanley McChrystal details McChrystal’s time in the U.S. Joint Special Operations Task Force, in which they recognized that the strict hierarchy that was historically followed by the military was inadequate to deal with the often improvised and chaotic methods of guerilla warfare. They devised a much more flexible model in which the individuals and teams closest to the threats at hand were empowered to take action on a particular problem, so they could operate more organically than the just the sum of its parts.
Almost as important were changes to the way people shared information. He broke down the information silos that kept key information out of people’s hands and instituted a system that pooled intelligence for everyone’s benefit. Better information made for better decisions. Furthermore, it prevented the problem of multiple departments working on the same problem in silos. Teams could work together and make better, more informed decisions.
So what does this mean to the manufacturing manager? In short, the more access to relevant data and insights that employees have, the more effective they will be at their jobs. Yes, at all levels — from executive management to the warehouse floor. With more information, they have more context and a better sense of the organization and their role in it. With a picture of the status quo, they need freedom to act on where they can make impact. When you can handle smaller decisions “on the ground,” management may surrender some control, but they also free themselves to focus on the bigger picture to people with a much more direct access to issues.
Sharing information isn’t always easy. In a company with dozens of people, traditional strategies of information sharing break down. Reports often diverge in criteria and data sources. You could call more meetings to sort everything out, but that cuts into time spent on actual work. Hiring more data analysts could give you a better picture of the company, but that’s pricey, not always feasible and often overkill for everyday operational metrics. You could send more emails, or publish a newsletter, but those may not be timely, and some people ignore them. Sending data reports to all your employees is an option, but that might be too late.
The solution being adopted by many organizations is real-time, automated reporting in the cloud. Automated reporting creates an easy-to-understand system of dashboards where information finds its way to people through minimal effort. These reports can be interactive, giving individuals the ability to explore the data to get further insights. Without tools like these in place, people are better able to make their own calls. The real value of automated reporting comes when everyone is on an agreed upon set of metrics and KPIs based off a singular, real-time source of truth.
Bailey International is a hydraulic and cylinder manufacturer that leverages software to manage the enterprise resource planning of the business. The company generates significant amounts of data, but has struggled to “make sense” of it and use it in a productive way. A specific pain point has been cross referencing and reconciling entity and record types in various records. A particularly frustrating requirement has been the amount of time and resources it has taken to export data to spreadsheets and create pivot tables. Additionally, the company has lacked the ability to manipulate and collaborate their data in real-time given the static and cumbersome nature of exported data.
With cloud data visualization and BI software, Bailey International has been able to create, manipulate and collaborate data reports natively within their ERP solution in real-time. The company has built specialized dashboards for operations, marketing and sales (both inside and outside). From a sales perspective, the company has significantly increased the ability to focus efforts taking action instead of building reports. Bailey can now see year-over-year sales metrics, by customer, which has given great insight into revenue driving opportunities and metrics. Additionally, the company now has the ability to bring in multiple saved searches, map fields to one another and run relevant calculations.
Since implementing the tools, the team has been able to spend a lot more time doing deep analysis of data instead of building the same repetitive sales report every week. The team has become much more nimble because they have the information in real-time and know where they stand at every point. As Bailey market analyst Jonathan Holley explains, “I knew that what I was doing was producing results, and that has made Bailey a better company.”
These are completely different examples of data democracy, but are similar in many ways. Both the military and manufacturing teams shared data widely to inevitably improve results.
This style of management requires a huge shift from traditional businesses structure. But for folks who have undergone this shift, they understand the potential to change the way you do business. The fact is that better information leads to better decisions by all of us.
Seymour Duncker is the founder and CEO of iCharts.