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Climate Change for Business Intelligence Leaders and Sponsors

Originally published February 2, 2010

Climate is in the news both worldwide and locally. Copenhagen is hosting the Summit on Climate Change. My home of Colorado is having winter weather extremes. Between Copenhagen and Colorado, there are two lessons for business intelligence (BI) sponsors who want to create a climate for change. Those two lessons are about creating urgency and combating complacency.

Urgency in Copenhagen: “The objective of the Summit on Climate Change is to mobilize the political will and vision needed to reach an ambitious agreed outcome based on science. Failure to reach broad agreement would be morally inexcusable, economically short-sighted and politically unwise. Now is the moment to act in common cause. There is little time left. The opportunity and responsibility to avoid catastrophic climate change is in your hands.” Will this sense of urgency create worldwide action?

Complacency in Colorado: The wind chill in Colorado has shifted 80o in the last week: from minus 32o Fahrenheit to 50o above zero. That’s not unusual in Colorado, but it still seems to catch people off guard. Just a few years ago, in a sudden storm, there were hundreds of commuters stranded on the well-traveled highway between Boulder and Denver that had to be rescued by the National Guard. Many people were not prepared for that extreme cold. They assumed that their drive to work would be like it always was. They didn’t have boots, gloves, shovels, or extra blankets in their cars. They didn’t anticipate that their cars might actually break down, that their cell phones might not work, or that they might actually be outside for more than a few minutes. Complacency created a life-threatening situation.

Similarly, BI initiatives need to function in a climate of urgency, and frequently, the climate of the organization may be one of complacency. BI sponsors and program managers plan extensively for the tactical implementation. They devote time, resources, and energy to process, technology, and plans. However, little effort is typically spent getting people within the organization ready for the changes that accompany business intelligence. So as BI leaders, do we sit back and treat that fact like the weather – something that happens to us over which we have no control? Do we see ourselves as outside of the issue; i.e., if it snows today, what does that have to do with me? “The culture made our BI initiative fail, what does that have to do with me?”

As it turns out, the attitude and actions related to creating a climate for change have a lot to do with BI success. Ironically, BI success may actually have a lot to do with creating urgency for other change initiatives within the organization. Information is key to creating a climate of urgency and in reducing complacency.

Therefore, a critical first step for BI leaders and sponsors is to make sure that there is sufficient urgency – enough people on their toes to energize the organization toward gaining cooperation and sustaining the momentum of change. Change, like the weather, is not a one-time event. Rather, employees need to see it as a continuous process of growth.

It’s tempting to skip this step because we never have enough time. Research and experience show that a business case and executive sponsorship, although important, may not be sufficient to change behavior. People have to both see and feel the need to change. As leaders, we need to identify where fear, anger, or complacency might exist so that those emotions can be addressed by the change. Yes, the "E" word – emotion. As tech leaders, it’s hard to admit that a rational, logical, well-thought out approach is just not enough. People act on their emotions. Initiatives charged with emotion change behavior and reinforce the changed behavior. The combination of logic and emotion, if it is compelling, is at the center of all successful change. Urgency becomes the key goal – both rational and emotional buy-in.

BI initiatives can benefit from the following key steps for creating a shared sense of urgency. Even more importantly, BI initiatives can support key change initiatives through the information they generate and how that is used to create urgency and combat complacency. According to The Heart of Change Field Guide, these steps include:

  • Identifying gaps between current and desired performance

  • Identifying sources of organizational complacency

  • Creating accountability with leaders and managers

Identifying Gaps Between Current and Desired Performance

To create urgency, the current situation related to organizational performance, market situation, and/or competition needs to be understood and felt. Additionally, the negative and positive outcomes of doing and/or not taking action will trigger people’s emotions so that they can feel the problem. In the face of competing priorities, the initiative with the most urgency will likely prevail over those that lose momentum. Key questions to explore include:

  • What gaps are there in performance and how can you prove it from existing metrics and/or research (i.e., stock price, revenue, expenses, margin, customer service, morale, turnover, customer retention, etc.)?

  • Who are the top competitors and what is their position relative to those same measurements?

  • What errors, missed opportunities, or failures has the organization experienced in the last year? What did they cost and how were they measured?

  • What markets, industries, or economic trends support the need to change?

  • Which stakeholders could provide powerful stories about the need to change?

  • What issues are causing fear, anger, or complacency?

  • What actions could be taken to increase the level of urgency?

Identifying Sources of Organizational Complacency

Success has its consequences and complacency can be one of them. Being part of a successful or large company may create a false sense of security. Current or past success does not necessarily guarantee future success, but especially in those companies, there is a human tendency to become complacent about the need for change. There are plenty of large company examples in the current economic reality to dispel that mindset. Some examples of actions that leaders could take to combat complacency include:

  • Highlight examples of industry giants who have lost their market position

  • Remind people of competitive weaknesses and benchmark the competition

  • Identify the risks of settling for the status quo

  • Set stretch goals that cannot be reached with business as usual

  • Measure performance on cross-functional goals and not just functional goals

  • Disseminate more information about customer and financial trends to demonstrate negative trends and weaknesses

Creating Accountability with Leaders and Managers

  • Foster an environment where everyone sees and feels the need for change

  • Invite ideas and suggestions for improvement

  • Hold people accountable for outcomes

  • Set an example of accountability for others

You’ll know that you’ve been effective in impacting urgency when you observe some of the following signs:

  • Increased discussion and debate about the need to change

  • More focus on the long term and what could happen in the future

  • Increased awareness of competition and the external environment

  • More external focus on the customer

  • Less protection of the status quo

Executive sponsorship without a sense of urgency is not enough. Historically successful organizations that yield to complacency position themselves for failure. Creating a climate of urgency and combating complacency are key success factors for true leadership.


Cohen, Dan S. The Heart of Change Field Guide. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, (Deloitte Development LLC) 2005.

Bardwick, Judith. Danger in the Comfort Zone: From Board Room to Mail Room. New York: AMACOM, 1991.

Kotter, John P. Leading Change. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1996.

  • Maureen ClarryMaureen Clarry

    Maureen is the Founder and President/CEO of CONNECT: The Knowledge Network (CONNECT), an Xtivia company. CONNECT specializes in data, technical, and organizational solutions for business intelligence. Maureen has been on the faculty of TDWI since 1998, served on the Board for the Colorado Chapter of TDWI, and participates on the Data Warehousing Advisory Board for the University of Denver. CONNECT has been recognized as the South Metro Denver Small Business of the Year, the Top 25 Women Owned and Top 150 Privately Owned Businesses in Colorado. Maureen can be reached at mclarry@connectknowledge.com or 303-730-7171, ext. 102.

    Editor's Note: More articles and resources are available in Maureen's BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel. Be sure to visit today!

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