Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Distinguishing Complainers From Whiners

Dove-tailing on yesterday’s essay, I have always found it puzzling how many people who are unfriendly to data and analytics or resistant, at best, are found working in organizations whose very mission is formed around analytics as a core asset.

This includes organizations at the forefront of today’s economy such as healthcare, pharmaceutical, biotech and educational concerns.

One of the board members who recruited me to Durham, North Carolina credited me recently in a retrospective for teaching board members about destination marketing in general and specifically, the value of using data to forecast direction.

That may be, but only the governing board as a unit as it evolves through time can make sustainable the embedding of analytics and strategic mindset as core values in the culture of an organization.

If other members aren’t continually vigilant, however, this culture can be so easily undermined by pressure from special interests for whom being strategic is an obstacle to self-serving agendas.

It can be as simple as forgetting to measure performance of analytics which is now considered equal in importance for executives to creativity, falling right after strategic mindset.

Even boards who persevere over many years are vulnerable to regression during periodic CEO successions, a time when charisma often overwhelms substance.

Crucial is selecting someone who grasps both the organization’s story, and in the case of destination marketing organizations, (DMOs) that of the community it serves.

This is best detected by how well they grasp the analytics central to the collective culture and narrative of both.

We shouldn’t make the mistake of always lumping together data and analytic tools such as metrics.  Those same authors I mentioned yesterday distinguished them in an earlier article this year in Harvard Business Review.

Data is data, but it isn’t something over which we have control.  Analytic expertise, particularly at the executive level, is the ability to convert data into metrics that can be consistently tracked and utilized over many years.

Then it can be woven into a strategic narrative.

An organization such as a DMO should be able to track several hundred metrics which are then collapsed into a dozen or so that not only represent what a DMO and its community care about, but more importantly, what they should care about.

This requires measuring against comparable sets of community destinations not for purposes of emulation but to identify outcomes that can truly differentiate a destination while still achieving market share.

In other words, metrics aren’t always about exceeding the norm, some metrics are maintained to measure a community’s divergence away from the norm.

In the words of Dr. Michael Porter, strategy is “about deliberately choosing to be different.”

At the deepest root of why DMO’s exist is the notion of protecting and fostering sense of place, that unique character that makes them worthy of affection.

Visitation, demand-based economic development, and tax revenue generation, are all merely a means to that end.

If residents of a community predominantly value sense of place, they will see its DMO as relevant.  If it is relevant to people who truly love the community, then the DMO will be relevant to local officials.

But it is also a DMO’s responsibility to sound warnings about things that erode sense of place.  Using data-analytics-metrics to strategically evaluate and choose among trade offs greatly improves the odds of doing that.

This is also why being a DMO exec is so precarious.  This part of the job will cause the DMO to occasionally step on the toes of some very powerful special interests, and it should.

Left unchecked, appeasing powerful but mainstream interests sets in motion forces that rapidly hollow out the very essence of place and “what makes our physical surroundings worth caring about or visiting.”

Fostering a community’s unique character is more than just protecting its past.  In the words of development expert Ed McMahon, it means helping communities adapt to change while maintaining and valuing the things that make it distinct.

There were occasions in all three communities in which I served when special interests attempted to blackmail governing boards.  They were rescued by sound analytics-driven decisions along with copious amounts of moral courage.

The management and boards of effective DMOs will be labeled complainers from time to time, ironically by those who themselves are whiners.

But pity the poor DMOs without data and analytics to back up their concerns or inability to discern the difference in those descriptions.

Many who serve on boards, including elected boards, fail to distinguish complaining from whining.

A complainant is one who has the best interests of others and the community at heart.

Whiners are those who seek special treatment or simply resent paying their share.

Oh, there is one more difference.  Whiners are often cheap, mean and vindictive.  Complainers are just frustrated and puzzled but willing to shoulder their full share and more of any cost.

Both deserve to be heard and provided more information but the former deserves more attentiveness, especially if the concerns are data-driven and contrary to prevailing opinion.

Training on how to triage complaints, including pressure from whining special or self-interests, should be de rigueur for all who serve on governing boards, especially elected officials.

No comments: