Act Like an Analyst, Think Like a Strategist

TheBigAnalytics_472_726Business analytics is serving a company best, when it is used to shape and support every facet of the company’s strategy, and support all resources and activities tied to that strategy.

Business analytics has not only gained traction as a function within business in recent years, it has also become a beacon in the current literature for those hungry for more rigor around identifying how to win. Many executives now place analytics among their top strategic priorities. So why, then, do I still encounter organizations who relegate their analytics teams to focus solely on operations or sales support? More importantly, why is this still the norm and not the exception?

Experience has told me this has everything to do with the fact that organizations see analytics as crucial, yet they lack a shared awareness of how analytics can be leveraged within the business. Not unlike six sigma advocates who use the process solely for manufacturing. Nor unlike balanced scorecard proponents who use the process to simply assess, rather than coordinate and integrate key activities. You as an analytics leader are the individual best positioned to help the business understand the totality of what value analytics can deliver. Yet in order to do this, you will have to act like an analyst, and think like a strategist…

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Opinion Poll: Anthem Takeover Suffering from Deal Heat?

*Note: The following was originally posted as an article on LinkedIn dated June 20, 2015.

Earlier today the Wall Street Journal reported that Anthem has submitted yet another, even sweeter deal to acquire fellow industry behemoth Cigna. The deal is now valued at $184 a share. This the fourth Anthem attempt in just weeks, the moves viewed as prescient at a time when M&A chatter abounds, and in a sector ripe for sea change with many heavy hitters stepping-up to the plate.

The first question which comes to mind is whether Anthem remains prudent in a tumultuous environment, or if this mega merger is beginning to suffer from deal heat. First to explore intent, as we must understand the game. Eccles, Lanes, and Wilson writing for the Harvard Business Review remind us that, “In today’s market, the purchase price of an acquisition will nearly always be higher than the intrinsic value of the target company. An acquirer needs to be sure that there are enough cost savings and revenue generators—synergy value—to justify the premium so that the target company’s shareholders don’t get all the value the deal creates.”

So then why consider deal heat? Well, according to Jack Welch’s description of deal heat in his seminal text Winning, “In such situations, once an acquisition candidate is identified, the top people at the acquirer and their salivating investment bankers join together in a frenzy of panic, overreaching, and paranoia, which intensifies with every additional would-be acquirer on the scene.” He goes on to list seven pitfalls associated with mergers, including a warning about the sixth pitfall, paying too much. Described by Welch as “Not 5 or 10 percent too much, but so much that the premium can never be recouped in the integration.”

So… $184 a share when Cigna is listed at $156.40 at the time of this writing I ask you … is this still prudent, or is this deal starting to get a temperature? Please share your opinions and comments below, and be sure to share this article with others to give them the chance to weigh-in.

Dr. Justin Barclay is an operations research scientist focused on supporting strategy through applied research and analytics. He is a senior analyst specializing in research and data modeling for the well-being company Healthways, and serves as an assistant professor of strategy for the Jack Welch Management Institute.

What Great Research and Life Have in Common

Fork in the Road

Image: 80000hours.org

In short, it comes down to questions. I will likely draw critics for this one, but I take a very reductionist view when it comes to research as an idea. Designing research well is hard, performing the appropriate analysis to support your research question is usually even harder. Achieving publication of your completed research is harder still. Yet where great research is not hard is recognizing that it, just as with life, is about asking the right questions. In life we are fraught with such questions as whether we are in the right job, whether we are raising our kids well, and whether we are saving enough for retirement. All legitimate of course, and what continues to drive the market for self-improvement/personal success books (an avid fan myself I must admit) is the continued lesson that both framing and lens selection are among the keys to answering them. These texts, therefore and for a nominal price, offer methods for framing differently, and offer a lens which differs from the one currently employed whenever we seek to do better.

Success in research, just as with success in life, begins with asking the right questions. Since there is not a What Should I Do With My Life volume for research, here are a few questions to consider as you embark on your next research project:

What Keeps Me Up at Night? Palmer and Zajonc (2010) in their text The Heart of Higher Education: A Call to Renewal quote Whitehead who states, “We must be aware of what I will call ‘inert ideas’ – that is to say, ideas that are merely received into the mind without being utilized, or tested, or thrown into fresh combinations… Education with inert ideas is not only useless; it is, above all things, harmful” (p. 58). Research is a process endeavored by few, yet needed by many. Research pushes our society further, answers those important questions, and gives rise to collectively educating the curious. Yet that process is wasted when on questions of low utility, or those meant solely to serve an end such as publication in itself. A dissertation which simply sits on a shelf, an article written only to be quoted by its author, research performed amid an absence of passion indeed generates inert ideas.

What Can I Talk About, Endlessly? Great research takes time, massive amounts of forethought, a healthy dose of metacognition, and elbow grease. We must dig into the existing literature to such an extent that not only do we understand the relative, ongoing theoretical conversation to-date, yet we must also feel comfortable contributing to its furtherance. Where this becomes a problem is when we recognize there is not one correct and finite way to go about this. As Dane (2011) describes in Evaluating Research, “For any particular theory, the number of ways in which a concept may be operationalized is limited only by the imagination of the researcher” (p. 22). This means not only can the very same concept be represented in myriad ways utilizing myriad methods, this also means that our curiosity in a topic cannot be short-lived or our exploration of it will be poorly served. Where inert ideas asks that we identify a source of passion, Dane reminds us we must also be willing to show great amounts of stamina in order to produce equally great research.

What Do Other People Need? As students of research, both at the Master’s and Doctoral level, we are told when first striving to identify a research topic that we must identify something meaningful to us and explore it. This, I feel is only one third of a very critical equation. As mentioned above another facet is to identify the existing conversation in the literature around a topic, and pinpoint where furtherance can be achieved. The final coefficient to this equation, however, has to do with the audience. As Booth, Colomb, and Williams (2008) note in The Craft of Research, “Down the road, you’ll be expected to find (or create) a community of readers who not only share an interest in your topic (or can be convinced to), but also have questions about it you can answer” (p. 19). This gives rise to the consideration for what problems can be solved for others, what questions can be answered for others, and what good your research can do for others. Great research needn’t be solely about a transparent journey into the center of you, it should also serve a purpose outside of the self, and serve a vested audience.

How Can I Help Them? We are not all researchers comfortable with every design available. Some of us prefer quantitative, some qualitative, some mixed methods. When considering the above on operationalization, as well as the furtherance of an existing scholarly exchange, we also have the opportunity to decide from among the designs possible which will ensure the largest captive, receptive audience as appropriate. As noted by the famed methodologist John Creswell (2009) in Research Design, “researchers write for audiences that will accept their research. These audiences may be journal editors, journal readers, graduate committees, conference attendees, or colleagues in the field… The experiences of these audiences with quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods studies can shape the decision made about this choice” (p. 19). This becomes a task at not only knowing your audience, it also means a task in understanding what design will be most helpful, as it will equally be the design which brings the learning curve down to near non-existence among your readership.

Again, I recognize I am taking a highly reductionist view. I hope those of you who see this as such also recognize this is meant to be a primer alone. These words certainly do not reflect all one should consider when beginning a research project. What this does represent, though, is a list of things to consider to get you on a productive path. A path toward enlightenment, toward understanding, and one well-trodden by those who were just as curious about the world around them. Hopefully, and if you’re lucky, it will also be a path which only leads to more questions.

Booth, W. C., Colomb, G. G., & Williams, J. M. (2008). The craft of research. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Creswell, J. W. (2009). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Dane, F. C. (2011). Evaluating research: Methodology for people who need to read research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Palmer, P. J. & Zajonc, A. (2010). The heart of higher education: A call to renewal. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

About the Author:

Senior decision support analyst for Healthways, and current adjunct faculty member for Grand Canyon University, South University, and Walden University, Dr. Barclay is a multi-method researcher, institutional assessor, and program evaluator.  His work seeks to identify those insights from among enterprise data which are critical to sustaining an organization’s ability to complete. That work spans the higher education, government, nonprofit, and corporate sectors. His current research is in the areas of employee engagement, faculty engagement, factors affecting self-efficacy, and teaching in higher education with a focus on online instruction.

Is the Model of the ‘Working Manager’ Truly Working?

Upon examination of the current worldview employed by the managers of today’s organizations, the term ‘working manager’ immediately comes to mind. We live in a complicated time where globalization is a given, knowledge networks are the foundation for action, and companies are only as successful as their most succinctly defined system of proprietary activity. This is met with economic times which have left many out of work, those who remain to perform the work of multiple, many to be overqualified for the positions they serve, and organizations forced to perpetuate only those aspects of their organization which can clearly add to the value proposition that is their economic engine.

Every organization needs performance in three major areas, including the building and reaffirmation of values, the building and developing of its people, and direct results (Drucker & Maciariello, 2006). What today’s manager is being held most accountable for, I believe based primarily upon the economic and competitive environment we are living in, are the direct results of their teams. This is countervailing to what is necessary for a perpetual organization, however, as this only focuses the manger’s time and attention on one aspect of three when looking to get things done through others. This does not take into account the necessary activities for developing people, and this does not take into account the necessary activities for building and reaffirming an organization’s values.

Taking concepts such as cognitive dissonance into account, this leads the manager to believe that if results are what receive emphasis from senior leadership, then results must be what emphasis receives their time and attention as well. Managers who are not expected to focus on development do not develop people, or perpetuate their organizations values. Instead, these managers rewrite the organizations values to emphasize action and results, just as senior leadership has done for them. The working manager therefore prevails as if results are to be center-stage, the manger will take on just as much of the technical and activity-based responsibilities of the team as any specialist under his/her charge. This will not lead to sustainability, however, only immediate outcomes. Technology, advancing organizational forms, and the diversity of our interconnected global workforce should serve as a primer for developmental action, not something to return to ‘once the work is finished’.

– Justin

Drucker, P. F. & Maciariello, J. A. (2006). The effective executive in action. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.