We’re often asked how do we create a Culture of Evidence? Most leaders know that they should be more evidence-based in how they work, but don’t know how they can go about doing it.
We’ve all heard the phrase “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” and anyone whos attempted to drive change in a complex organization knows how true that statement can be. And, many seasoned leaders know that culture change doesn’t happen overnight, but here are some tips that you can use to get started.
Tip 1: Paint a picture of “What a Culture of Evidence looks like”
If you want to make meaningful progress towards creating a culture of evidence, there’s no better place to start than envisioning your future state. Things to consider include:
- How will life be better? For you, your team and for the company?
- What opportunities will you be able to access?
- What risks will you be able to avoid?
- What decisions will be smarter?
- What time will be saved?
If you can create a compelling vision of your organization in the future that thrives in a Culture of Evidence, then you can use this to win supporters.
Tip 2: Set the standard for “What counts as evidence?”
In the spirit of “crawl, walk, run”, getting started with using evidence doesn’t have to begin with hiring a team of scientists, researchers and lawyers. To begin with it may be as simple as using data to support your decision-making, carrying out basic research, or using spreadsheets to do “what if” analysis. Most leaders do this already, but many others still rely on their intuition to make their decisions.
The following is an illustrative example of “what counts as evidence?”:
- A declarative statement of your position such as “I believe that we should launch a social media awareness campaign for our red widgets”
- Some form of objective proof that shows how you formed your position, such as “According to our market data 85% of our target customers have never heard of our red widgets, and 57% of them use social media. The campaign would be cost effective even if it only generated a 5% increase in our market share.”
- A disclosure of what you don’t know, such as “Admittedly our market data is one year old, so we’re assuming that the patterns still hold.”
- An action statement, such as “I’d like to update our market data but the delays and costs outweigh the risk of missing an opportunity … I recommend that we launch the campaign and track performance.”
The ultimate goal of evidence is that it holds up to the review process, meaning that another leader could review the evidence and arrive at the same conclusions. Along those lines, “what counts as evidence?” could be just that … an objective analysis that has been peer reviewed.
Tip 3: Put the tools in place
To set your team up for success, you will want to make sure that the basic tools are available for evidence-based thinking. Some questions to consider include:
- Are the right investments being made to collect the right data?
- Does your team have access to the data they need? Is the data being collected at the source, but it’s not being stored in the data warehouse? Or is the data there, but the privacy levels are too restrictive?
- Do they have the skills for working with the data, or alternatively, is the right information available in insightful reports or visual dashboards?
- Do they have the right technical and human resources perform deeper analyses, in response to important business questions that arise?
Tip 4: Lead by example
If you want to convince your team and your peers that you are fully behind this idea of a Culture of Evidence, then you’ll need to walk the talk. This will require effort at the beginning, but after a while it will become just “the way things are done around here”. Leading by example can include shifting your own language from “I think this is what we should do …” into “The evidence tells me that this is what we should do …”
It can also include making a concerted effort to not do things the old way because “that’s the way we’ve always done it” but instead doing things in ways that are proven to generate the right outcomes. This relates to everyday decision-making and operations, as well as longer-term strategy and planning.
Tip 5: Reward the adopters
It is often said that “you get what you reward”. This is an easy concept to apply to building a Culture of Evidence. For example you can reward your team for using evidence in situations like:
- Decision-making on special projects: Projects that have proposals that have supporting evidence are often approved, whereas other projects often don’t.
- Decision-making on budget: Budget increases (or exemptions from budget cuts) are generally provided to those departments that can prove that they need it, whereas departments that can’t prove their value miss out.
- Decision-making on promotions: Team members that demonstrate the effective use of evidence are generally promoted to higher positions, whereas other team members don’t.
By taking this approach it won’t take long for people in your organization to learn that the way to win is by embracing an evidence-based approach. Team members will either adopt the new direction or self-select themselves out of your organization. Over time this will increase the momentum of the culture change, and gradually you will find that your organization attracts talent that values a Culture of Evidence.