I recently had the opportunity to interview Christopher Davis. Christopher is a seasoned Chief Information Officer (CIO) – and no stranger to transformational change. We talked about an experience he had recently leading a business transformation.
Steve: What does it mean to you to be a transformational leader?
Christopher: There are two important elements of transformational leadership. The first is to recognize that as your business is moving along a strategic path, there are many opportunities for change and improvement. A transformational leader can see these needs before others. The other element is to be able to influence people in your organization to own and drive those changes.
Steve: Tell me about a time when this was particularly challenging or rewarding for you. What was the situation, what did you do, how did it work out?
Christopher: Sleep Number went through a couple of iterations of process and systems transformation. Essentially, we built a technology infrastructure that would support growth both internationally and domestically. In partnership with several business leaders, we went through a two-year implementation of Enterprise Resource Planning and Customer Relationship Management (ERP and CRM). This included the data analytics which required a great deal of process redesign. We were able to implement the entire organization with data analytics, increasing our decision-making capability six-fold with only 50% more employees to support the environment.
Steve: How did you clarify the purpose of your transformation?
Christopher: As part of our process design, we discussed the benefits of cross-functional analytics and repeatedly heard how challenging it was to perform this type of analysis. The new ERP platform would give us the capability to source data from an integrated system. We demonstrated how this could work and kept the idea of new cross-functional capabilities in front of the team.
Steve: In what ways did you experience cross-functional dysfunction, and how did you address this?
Christopher: The dysfunction was in the analytical detail, where the organization would have different definitions for the same metrics. “Company Sales” or “Margin” had different meanings between functions. This made it a challenge to design the solution. We had to drive to alignment on definitions before we could start the design, and this required several meetings to sort out these definitions.
Steve: Were there cultural attributes that made the transformation easier or more difficult?
Christopher: On the upside, we were also working on the total ERP & CRM solution, so there were many conversations. The project encouraged employees across the company to collaborate and be open to change. Also, the organization tends to be more cross-functional, so it made it easier to have these conversations.
The challenge was that sometimes a team thought they were right and weren’t easily influenced, so gaining agreement was difficult. This required us to bring people together to understand differences – and the dialog led to greater clarity.
Steve: How did you enroll others in the transformation?
Christopher: We engaged representatives from every executive team. We met with them regularly to define, design, build and operate. It was the first time we did this, and it worked out well.
Steve: Please comment on the organizational challenges you faced, both structural and behavioral.
Christopher: Time was the biggest challenge. We were required to change job descriptions to ensure ownership of this work and allocate the time necessary for the work. Some teams understood this better than others. We found that it was a function of executive engagement. When the senior leaders made it a priority, it was easier for us to move along the timeline more effectively.
Steve: How did you become more of a coach?
Christopher: Candidly, I had to be a coach because I was an influencer and not a direct- report leader. I needed the rest of the organization to understand the value of our work, and why the investment was worthwhile. I also found that this helped my team understand their role was to partner and coach with their counterparts across the business. They could no longer drive change on their own. They became internal consultants who coached the organization to identify challenges and opportunities.
Steve: If you could give one piece of advice, what would it be?
Christopher: Listen. Listen. Listen. When you are making significant changes, you need to recognize there are three perspectives: people, process and technology. You need to pay attention to all of them and the technology is the easiest of the three.
Steve: Christopher, thank you for sharing this insightful journey on how to build a successful, transformative, analytics team. Best wishes for great success in the future.