All posts by Alice Sidhu

Is Data A Promise Or A Peril? 3 Things That Really Matter

Why do organisations and leaders face such a challenge in using data at all, much less using it effectively.

By red mango/ Shutterstock

It’s everywhere and it’s generated every second. Just texted someone? You created data. Just booked an Uber. You created data. Did some grocery shopping? You created data. And that’s before we even get to your professional context. Sending an email, making notes in a meeting, paying invoices, assessing your business strategy. It’s all data.

With ninety per cent of the world’s data having been created in the last two years, Domo’s recent report shares some staggering facts about the explosion of information; equivalent to approximately 2.5 quintillion bytes per day. Not quite sure what quintillion is? If I say a massive, it’s a huge understatement. But you get the idea.

So, with all of this data, why do organisations and leaders face such a challenge in using data at all, much less using it effectively. And with all the talk of digital transformation and the role of analytics driving new insights, why is it proving so hard to translate data into meaningful actions and outcomes? These three things really do matter:

1. Upgrade your business and your thinking

Historically, legacy systems, fragmented business models and poor documentation are all elements that contributed to the difficulty of accessing meaningful data. Historically, organisations would have to work for months to collate important data on every aspect of the business; customers, sales, financials, and forecasting to name a few. Data would often be incomplete, unclear, or in some instances, missing. If you weren’t looking for it, you would be working on cleansing it, a painful by-product of the adage of ‘garbage in, garbage out’. The paradox of the digital world is that this becomes so much easier and harder at the same time. Easier because the capabilities of technology allow analysis of data to be faster and more insightful than ever before. We can now find patterns in historical information, and create predictions that help businesses position resources where demand and customer expectations intersect. And prediction is the alchemy of organisational success. Studying classics at university, I understand that prophecy and prediction are all about enabling the competitive advantage. And technology can enable that with thankfully a lot more clarity than a Delphic oracle.

The flipside of this however is that systems, processes and models are not necessarily well positioned to take advantage of what is now possible.  Doing things the same way is not designed to deliver a different outcome and for many organisations looking for quick wins, the foundational and cultural changes required to achieve foundational transformation are too complex. It’s easier to implement a digital technology. While that will improve the current state, the absence of a more comprehensive improvement strategy means an organisation will only go so far. To capitalise on the real opportunity data must become part of the DNA.

2. Don’t tell me more, tell me what matters

Along with internal and market data, organisations are now able to access a new world of data. Social media, third party data including weather and GPS, IoT and devices. Today data is literally and metaphorically, Big. The opportunity for an organisation here is that they can learn and use so much information that was previously unavailable. The agriculture industry can use weather and IoT to identify optimal harvest time, and retailers can use their own loyalty and purchase data with social media to target customers with highly personalised promotions and offers. And so with the quantum of data being so big, leaders are faced with another well known conundrum; that of analysis-paralysis. Where the challenge previously may have been not knowing enough because it wasn’t available or feasible to access, leaders are now confronted with the proliferation of data that creates a risk around not knowing enough because there is likely more that should be known. The organisational problem this creates then is that leaders are unable or unwilling to make a decision because the breadth of information is just too confusing or because there is personal risk in making a decision that may be proven to be incorrect if more data presents itself. Another mindset shift is required here and that is for leaders to make a decision based on the best possible facts at the time, and be ready to adapt and course correct should new data provide a different option.

3. How you use it matters even more than what you have

Data and big tech companies present very interesting case studies for cross-industry insight on how data can be used, and misused.  Some companies, like Apple’s Tim Cook, have come out very publicly to discuss privacy and how consumer data should be used, and how it should be protected. Others, like Facebook, have been conspicuous in their silence and their absence on their use of data given it underpins their business model. The last two years have seen a significant change in sentiment on what we, as citizens and as consumers, are willing to accept and condone. And while the conversation is still being played out, and the resolution is unclear at this time, it does provide valuable insight for any organisation that is collecting data and contemplating options for how it can be used. Trust in brand, and trust in leaders cannot be separated from how an organisation conducts itself.

4 Strategies For Managing Change The Right Way

If you think change is easy, you must be doing it wrong! These 4 strategies can help…

Why do we say change is hard when we make changes every day; we change clothes, what we eat, where we go. We change meetings, appointments, schedules constantly. So what is it about change that makes us put the brakes on anything and everything that requires us to act, work, interact, and think a little differently? In the digital era, change is everywhere. There’s new technology, new initiatives, new customers, new opportunities and new risks. And all of them require some sort of change whether it be to our priorities, our time, or how we go about doing our work. And yet, with a recent Harvard Business Review finding that 70 per cent of digital transformations do not realise their expected outcome, it’s clear that we have a challenge around a change in mindset, business model and approach.

Time to get out of our comfort zones; digital is all about transformation and innovation, which at it’s core requires varying degrees of change and adaptability. And yet so many of us are still uncomfortable with it. Even something as basic as shared work spaces was initially a confronting change to many that signalled the end of something that was comfortable and familiar.   The idea to many, is that change means that there is something that has not been done well or right, previously. But what if we changed our mindset and saw change as an opportunity to engage differently and learn new things? What if we saw it as the way to get things done, and the way to inspire us, help us learn, and help us achieve?  Fred Emery articulates this brilliantly “Instead of constantly adapting to change, why not change to be adaptive?”

Understanding this may be easy however making it happen is another thing altogether. So where to start? Here are four strategies that will help shift mindsets and perspectives for organisations and leaders who want to get this right.

1. Make it make sense

Context matters. Change cannot and should not happen in isolation. When a company or team undertake any initiative without the benefit of alignment to a functional or organisational strategy, it can create confusion or a disconnect between what is happening and the broader priorities. Alternatively, being able to clearly articulate how one enables the other creates clarity and purpose. Dan Pink’s amazing book Drive, explores the powerful motivating force of purpose in creating inspiring and engaging commitment. Everyone wants to know they are moving in the right direction, and that it’s a direction that matters.

2. Make it matter

Change becomes very personal when we are asked, or expected to do something that requires us to be different from what we are.  The question we all inevitably ask ourselves when we are presented with something that requires us to do something different is What’s in it for me?  If this question cannot be answered then probability suggests success is going to be unlikely. It’s not that as individuals we are singularly selfish, or wish to be difficult (although I am sure we all have our moments), it’s just that a change usually does seem like more effort. And effort involves energy and attention that can be too much in the plethora of some many other competing priorities we have in both our professional and personal lives. Being able to explain the benefits of what’s coming and what it might mean in a before versus after scenario can create a powerful force in the direction the change is needed. Too often leaders and organisations expect people to simply get it and don’t take the time to communicate and break this down meaningfully. Doing so can make all the difference.

3. Make it simple

Even if context is set and personalisation has been defined, it’s easy to get caught up in the confusion around the how. Best intentions are often abandoned because we are derailed by competing priorities, or simply because it seems really hard; as noted above, so much of change requires what we interpret to be exponential and often unnecessary effort. In their book Switch, Chip and Dan Heath explore the importance of providing a simple and clear path for those who want to implement a successful change. In the corporate world, we all know the conversation around SMART goals.  Our approach to change should not be any different. Set small milestones that are well defined and achievable. Celebrate the success upon achievement before moving on to the next one. And acknowledge that a setback is not a failure, or a reason to give up. In fact, in the digital dialogue, it’s simply an initiative of testing and learning. 

4. Make it the way things get done

Change should never be an afterthought. It should be ingrained into the organisational DNA.  Understanding that not everyone is going to be on board from day one is one thing. Working out what to do about it and create the impetus to move in the right direction is a challenging proposition but as many organisations and teams have shown before, it is possible. In the digital world, it is very easy to be distracted by the technology and its potential, losing sight that it is man + machine that realise the true potential of transformation. Understanding this and incorporating it into the ways of working will enable the cultural engagement that is required to become an organisation that is adaptive and agile at heart. Leverage the expertise and willingness of those have become a part of an initiative to build stories and share learnings from what worked and what didn’t. Then integrate the learning into the next program and the next, continuing to build until there is a shift of momentum towards the change, as opposed to resisting it. 

When Did Podcasting Become So Cool?

50 per cent of the population can’t be wrong, right? But just why is podcasting so popular and why do we keep listening?

By Syda Productions/ Shutterstock

In 2017, when I received a call from Colin Beattie, one of the best leadership and cultural transformation architects I know, I had no idea at all about podcasts. So when Colin told me that he had an idea for an innovative podcast format exploring leadership dilemmas, and asked if I wanted to be one of his executive speakers, it was more my enthusiasm at having a chance to work with Colin again that had me saying yes. Two great conversations facilitated by Colin with the wonderful Simone Carroll, some improvisation from the talented Rik Brown and Amanda Buckley, and two more episodes of the podcast series LeaderShip of Fools were created. From my end, I was a convert.

With the advent of digital technology, the way we work, socialise and engage has changed dramatically. So it’s no surprise therefore that the way we consume information, listen and learn has also changed. What may however be a surprise is that what we now commonly refer to as podcasting, has its origins in the 1980s. For those of us who were around at the time, we may remember it referred to as audioblogging (among other names). For its time, it was a ground-breaking way of recording and communicating information and messages. It wasn’t until the early 2000s and the introduction of the Apple iPod however, that momentum started to build around this digital platform. With a diverse library of 000’s of recordings being made available via the iPod, digital recordings became that much easier to access and started being more consistently being referred to as podcasts.

In this age of digital where only some things really stick and embed, and others join a cycle of hype before finding oblivion, what is it about podcasting that has not only endured but thrived? Nielsen estimates that in 2017, 44 per cent of Americans have listened to a podcast, with 80 per cent or more listening to one podcast each week.  If you think that sounds only vaguely interesting, and it’s simply a US-inspired phenomena, think again. According to Statista The State of Podcasting, would you have guessed that South Korea is firmly at the top of list of countries? With 58 per cent of people having listened to podcast in the last month, they are followed by Spain with 40 per cent. We Australians aren’t doing too poorly at 33 per cent, matching the US in percentage, if not in population numbers.  So irrespective of the range and location of listeners, it seems that podcasts are global and they are here to stay. Which raises the question of why exactly are we listening?

  1. Our need for connection. There does seem to be an irony here that I am very aware of. Does that really make sense? How can podcasting, a digital format helps us connect?  With over 600,000 podcasts out there, there are many topics and formats, as a well as a diversity of content. Done well, a podcast captures a conversation and invites us to be part of it. It can allow us to feel that we are listening and learning as active participants, even though we have not been there at the time. The authenticity of an open conversation, different perspectives from what we may otherwise be exposed to, and discussion that could confirm or challenge what we think we know, is a unique experience. Importantly, the challenge is non-confrontational and we give speakers a chance to explain themselves (unless we decide to pause them, or even more drastically, delete them from our library). They provoke our curiosity, and hopefully our admiration. Many times, and this has happened to me, they also provoke disbelief and ire. What? or Are you kidding me? is something I know I have said out loud while listening to more than one podcast.
  2. Interested in politics, starting a business, functional expertise, marketing, popular culture, music, crime, gardening, a discussion of your favourite TV show (yes, even if it is from the 90s and a guilty pleasure and therefore destined to remain unnamed)?  Well, you get the idea. Almost every, and any topic is likely to have a podcast associated with it. Note to readers: I have included “almost” to qualify my comment given that I am sure there will be someone out there who will be able to find a gap in the podcast market for a subject of interest. Applying a digital lens, podcasts have become a highly personalised way for us to choose what we want to consume, and how we want to consume it.  The breadth of content is extraordinary and the access to expertise so great. As someone navigating the business world whether in your own start up or in a large organisation, where else would you be able to hear about the challenges of entrepreneurship, digital transformation, leadership and customer engagement from those who have innovated, succeeded, and failed at scale? Similarly, where else would you be able to access the breadth of experiences and insights of people who are influencing the agenda on science, social justice, politics, economics and the environment be it locally, nationally or globally?
  3. If digital is redefining the idea of anywhere, anytime, then podcasting exemplifies this. Just as the options for content are endless, as a listener, I have the choice as to when and how, I listen. There are a multiplicity of listening platforms and devices; desktop, smartphone via iTunes, Spotify, Podbean. Something to suit everyone. Choices can be based on location, the time that is available and what is of interest at that particular day, week, or even moment. You can choose to be educated, entertained, moved, or inspired. Sometimes, a great podcast can achieve all of those things. There are many times that I have found myself laughing out loud as I listen to a podcast while I am walking. So a note to those who are new to podcasting; it does take a special type of confidence to walk down the street and not be disturbed by the curious looks of other pedestrians as you smile or laugh out loud. If you aren’t quite there yet, there are many other locations and time options for you to think about and get started with.

My podcast library is highly versatile depending on what I am interested in learning more about. A few current favourites from me that I am talking to friends about: npr’s Hidden Brain, Freakonomics Radio, HBR Ideacast, and of course, LeaderShip of Fools.

Great things happen when we seize the opportunity to be curious. If you haven’t become a podcast listener yet, it’s not too late to make a start. And if you have and lost some momentum, tune in to one on a topic of interest and reignite your learning and inspiration.

Three Key Mindset Shifts To Lead In The Digital Age

The wonder of digital is the array of choice and opportunity it brings. To drive a successful digital agenda and succeed in the digital age however, mindsets need to build on leadership fundamentals while also shifting to respond to the new environment.

By Brian Lasenby / Shutterstock

Digital, the awe and the promise, filling us with inspiration and fear at the same time. Initially, the digital discussion was all about technology. After all, technology is cool, and we all want the cool factor. It demonstrates that we are at the forefront, leading the way, innovating. All great things when organisations and individuals are in a highly competitive environment and looking for a point of differentiation.

The wonder of digital is the array of choice and opportunity it brings. RPA? A great place to start. Mobility? It’s all about anytime, anywhere. AI? Not quite sure what it means, but let’s go with it anyway.

As many organisations sought to implement technology and transform themselves, the promised utopia did not quite eventuate. Technology moves fast and the innovation of today is tomorrow’s nostalgia (Any 80’s movie featuring a brick cleverly masquerading as a mobile phone will make this point all too well for those of us who were there to remember it the first time). That’s because digital requires a reinvention in how an organisation operates from business models, to systems and processes, through to engaging with the market and customers. It turns out that without a mindset and cultural shift, the full benefits of the technology are never realised or sustained. And so, for leaders this poses an interesting question. What does leadership look like in this digital age?

There is a multitude of research, writing and discussions on leadership in general. It is no surprise therefore that the conversation around digital mindset is met with cynicism, or fatigue. Don’t throw out those books yet (unless you received a kindle for Christmas). The fundamentals of what we know to be great leadership endure; humility, curiosity, emotional intelligence among others are key call outs and are as relevant today as when they were first identified. To drive a successful digital agenda and succeed in the digital landscape however, mindsets need to build on leadership fundamentals while also shifting to respond to the new environment. So where can you start to make a shift like this?

1. Experiment and embrace learning, not failure

Everybody knows about this one. In the strive to be innovative, there is a focus on experimentation. Experimentation is a call out for me because it brings together a number of attributes that differentiate digital leaders; challenging the status quo, creativity in seeing something the rest of us do not, courage to advocate for it, curiosity and determination to pursue it.

Interestingly enough, this also requires what might be considered a high tolerance for risk (which is why I mentioned courage). The default position for many leaders and organisations is to say “no” in a variety of ways.  I am not sure how many times I have heard “that’s not been done before”, “that won’t work here” or “we tried it and it didn’t work”. And there were times when I listened, and others when I thought there was something worth pursuing and did, demonstrating probably more hope and naivety , than courage.

The real issue of risk in experimentation arises because we need to be comfortable with  failure. Failure here is not an aspiration, it is simply highly likely when trying something new or doing something for the first time, even if it has worked somewhere else. Failure is problematic because it makes us susceptible to self-doubt, and the critique of others. Both are tough. And the idea that we celebrate failure in the digital world is a confusing and honestly, a little ridiculous to many. So, let’s be clear, that with experimentation, it’s the learning that needs to be celebrated, not the failure. Gary Pisano makes this point clearly in his book “Creative Construction: The DNA of Sustained Innovation”.  Try something new, take what worked, evolve it and get it right. Or work out whether it is even worth pursuing further, or call it quits and move on.

2. Understand skills, cultivate expertise

There is no shortage of dystopian views of the end of the human workforce as the result of automation and AI. If failure incites fear, there is no doubt that human redundancy as a result of technology amps up the anxiety level. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that workforce transitions due to automation will impact approximately 14 per cent of the world’s workforce, so the scale of the impact is significant. My first implementation of digital analytics was in 2011, long before we were even having the conversation so I have seen the potential and the limitations. Developing an executive dashboard of key business metrics including daily sales, was a great start to automating analytics and producing actionable insights. So much more would be possible today. I am optimistic about the future of humanity and the ability of the man + machine interchange.

There is no doubt that many tasks will be automated. Many routine ones in fact already have been. At the same time, demand for new skills is emerging. And these skills present an opportunity to generate value in ways that may not have been possible previously. Digital savvy leaders adopt a mindset that see this threat as an opportunity. They understand the impact for themselves, their teams and the organisation. Anticipating what is coming, they identify the skills and behaviours that are needed and develop them, positioning themselves at the forefront through different ways of learning. With so much being so new to so many, expertise and differentiation comes to those who are willing to learn, try, and apply. Equally important, they cultivate this mindset with their employees and enable them with the skills and attributes needed.

3. Operate within new models, divest old paradigms

Welcome to the new world of work. Expertise exists in unlikely places; traditional reporting structures don’t always work and teams operate with autonomy and accountability. It takes a distinct mindset shift to relinquish decision making and control. The more important the initiative, the greater the risk, the harder it becomes. Yet the digital world values and rewards expertise, speed and adaptability. That means setting the agenda and outcome, defining parameters and empowering the team with expertise to execute. It does not mean abdicating accountability for progress and delivery, nor does it mean micro-managing the team because things aren’t being done as you would do them.

For many leaders, the paradigm shift to new models of leadership is challenging. The results however are inspiring. When I was tasked with working on the National Emergency Warning Project with the amazing Joe Buffone who was leading the Government’s Emergency Services response, we both knew that we needed to assemble an A-team, give them guidance and clear direction, and then let them do their thing while we did ours. The result? A first-of-a-kind initiative, with media attention, up and running (and more importantly working) on time and within budget, which is practically unheard of in either public or private sector, was the result.

There is no doubt that the digital landscape presents challenges that many may find uncomfortable at best. Embracing new ways of thinking and applying mindset shifts is a tremendous opportunity for leaders to transform themselves, their teams and their organisations. Time to be inspired by the potential of what is possible.

Forget New Year’s Resolutions! Do These 3 Things Instead

Giving up on New Year’s resolutions? For a fresh perspective, try these three suggestions to start 2019 in the best possible way.

I gave up New Year’s resolutions a long time ago. More importantly, I have never looked back. This wasn’t a decision made in defeat because I couldn’t achieve my resolutions. After all, I followed the guidance on setting SMART goals and remembered to acknowledge the small wins that add up to cumulative success as we are often reminded to do.

It was simply that on reflection, my view was that these types of resolutions come with the expectation of a new year bringing with it a personal remodel. Nothing wrong with that of course. Self improvement is what we are all striving for;  or trying to find the time to get to if we aren’t quite there. It’s just that I realised the concept of resolutions and I were not well aligned in two fundamental ways.

Firstly, the focus of resolutions we all tend to make seems to be addressing what we see as our personal shortcomings or deficiencies. Many of us start resolutions with This year I will ( be better at, get around to)…..or This year I will not……Does not quite apply to you? You would be one of the very few of us who has not resolved to; go to the gym, improve diet, work less, be more purposeful.

Secondly, implicit in the timing of new year’s resolutions is that individual transformation can or should only take place annually.  With U.S News reporting that 80% of resolutions fail by the second week of February, it seems making it through January is it’s own win.  That does not however, set us up well for the rest of the year.  Unfortunately all it does really seem to do is give us a bit over 10 months to berate what we see as a personal failure, even though the majority of the population is right there with us.


With the odds being so heavily stacked against resolutions, and for those of us not quite ready to give up yet,  what is left to do instead? It is important to note that I believe the new year is an important milestone because it creates a space for us to think about what has gone before and what we would like to realise from what is ahead. So if you, like me, were never that inspired by resolutions, these strategies may be helpful in setting up and navigating the year ahead:

Identify and cultivate moments that inspire you; then make more

Instead of thinking about what you have not done well or enough of, reflect on what you achieved in the last year both personally and professionally. Remember accomplishments, moments, and experiences where you were at your best. Some call this flow, others the zone. Irrespective of what we call it, we understand the importance of those moments. They may be very small or incidental. For me, the memory of hospitality at a little trattoria in Rome which had me sharing grappa early in the morning on an empty stomach, is just as inspiring as a large project delivered successfully. Or it may not have been the achievement of something, simply the attempt and perhaps, the surprise, of doing better than we thought. (I rode my first bicycle in 20 years in Myanmar in December and my sense of achievement was in simply staying on. This may not be a moment I will rush to replicate) Think about what you have done and consider (in whatever way works for you), how to foster the circumstances or relationships that enable you to surprise yourself. And don’t forget to provide some self-acknowledgement on the way through.

Explore self-renewal

While the start of the new year is a great time to reflect on changes we may want to make, or those we feel we need to, we know from transformation efforts in our work lives that there is never just ‘one thing”.  Any significant achievement is the culmination of detailed planning and execution and good practices, consistency, hard work, and yes, sometimes luck, all play a key part.

The strategy of self-renewal is critical here; taking inventory of experiences and finding the motivation to come back from disappointments and set backs. Understanding the importance of self-renewal gives us permission to accept that peaks and troughs are inevitable. It’s how we deal with them that matters. Consistency, mindset, and resilience matter and help us navigate the challenges. John Gardner has a brilliantly inspiring perspective on this. “ You don’t need to run down like an unwound clock. And if your clock is unwound, you can wind it up again”. He reminds us that although some challenges may seem insurmountable, we can always control how we respond. For me, simply going for a run is one of my go-tos. The distance and pace will vary depending on how I am feeling at that point in time. You can define and choose your own way to self renew that works for you.

Experiment with Curiosity

My nephews are constantly asking me questions. Although this continues to surprise me, those with children may just be glad that someone else is being subjected to the inquisitive mind of the young. Topics range from my preference for the DC versus Marvel Universe, anything sports related ( I fail miserably here), to how I ended up in Myanmar last year (I’m yet to explain that to their satisfaction).  

Instead of making a resolution for a specific intention, consider a mindset around curiosity. Experimenting with curiosity enables you to simply say you will ask questions, be open to new ideas, try new things.  Always asking why? Change your mindset and ask why not? It allows you to frame a world of possibilities and opens up opportunities that you may not otherwise be privy to or would have considered. That’s a big part of how I actually did end up in Myanmar. More importantly, curiosity sets a framework for continuous learning. That in itself facilitates new skills, different perspectives and as noted above, self-renewal. If you aren’t up to seeking something new to explore, that’s ok. A good way to start is simply to not dismiss the next idea someone shares with you. Want to simplify even more than that? Try a new food, read a book on a topic you don’t know much about, or listen to music in a new genre. Take the learning that comes with it, even if it that you won’t be doing that again!

There is no doubting that we know what we should be doing and that the challenge is always in making it a reality.  So with the start of the new year, it is a great time to remember that this year will be about continuing on the successes of last year, and the combination of small moments count just as much as the big ones.

Article by Alice Sidhu.