Adaptive Change: Stay CALM and Carry On

When we talk about data-driven cultures, what do we mean?
What are the individual and organizational characteristics we look to cultivate? In this series of blogs, we will share three key strategies relating to people, process, and organizational change that lead to successful data-driven cultures.

Lisa Targonski

Rick Hinton

Date Published:
February 9, 2023

In our prior post on data-driven cultures, we discussed why you need to systematize your decision-making processes so that they can be learned, practiced, and improved daily.

This post examines why adopting a formal change management process is essential for your transformation to a data-driven culture.

Organizations feel pressure to adapt and change as they scale and operationalize advanced analytics solutions, but they often don’t have a formal process to help sustain the change over time. This problem grows as the number of advanced analytics projects proliferates, magnifying the impact of change by introducing new ways of communicating, working, and making decisions.

Leaders need to understand the conditions under which change is likely to occur and implement a clear methodology for helping people plan for and adapt to the change necessary to transform into a data-driven culture.

Why and How People Change

In their bestselling book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, authors and academics Chip and Dan Heath tapped into decades of research from psychology, sociology, and other disciplines to uncover the keys to effective change. What they found is that successful change efforts share a common pattern requiring change leaders to address three realities at once:

If you want people to change, you must provide clear direction.

What might look like employee resistance to change is often a lack of clarity; ambiguity and confusion can cause people to revert to the status quo. Therefore, leaders must establish a clear and compelling reason for the change, the essential “why,” and provide explicit direction for what is expected. Without clear direction, those charged with implementing change are wracked by decision paralysis, which “can be deadly for change — because the most familiar path is always the status quo.”

Change is hard because people wear themselves out.

Deep in the throes of a change effort, what looks like laziness or indifference is often exhaustion. This is because change requires tapping into your reservoir of self-control which, unsurprisingly, is a finite resource. Similar to what one experiences with physical endurance, there are limits to the mental load that one can bear during times of continual change. The more significant the change, the more it will sap one’s energy and motivation. Clear direction and a formal process for change help minimize the grind that bogs down change efforts.

To change someone’s behavior, you have to change their situation or environment.

What looks like a people problem in organizational change is often a situation problem. In other words, look at what changes can be made to the work environment to make it easier for people to make the right decisions. Furthermore, try to understand how someone’s situation (including culture, incentives, and social pressure) will likely influence their “bad” behavior, knowing that that behavior does not necessarily indicate who they are now or what they can become.

Considerations for Data-Driven Cultural Change

Using the Heaths’ framework as a baseline for change, what are the implications in a business context? How should leaders approach change? They recommend three core strategies to enable change in any organizational context. But first, leaders need to recognize a simple truth: “…ultimately, all change efforts boil down to the same mission: Can you get people to start behaving in a new way?”

Three Key Strategies for Change:

Point to the destination, bright spots, and critical moves.

You need to be clear about the ultimate destination. Strategic clarity and a compelling “why” are essential to engaging and motivating stakeholders.

To hold their interest, you must highlight what the Heaths refer to as “bright spots.” This means highlighting what’s working and replicating it wherever possible. Finally, the “critical moves” refer to setting clear direction and expectations for the desired behaviors and actions. Clear, consistent communication is essential to this process.

Motivate, shrink the change, and grow people.

You are not starting from scratch. There have been successes, and you want to build on them. The Heaths remind us,

“rather than focusing solely on what’s new and different about the change to come, make an effort to remind people what’s already been conquered.”

This makes the change more manageable; it’s “shrinking the change” to maintain motivation. When employees see change as hard but doable, they become more motivated and more likely to change themselves, seeking personal and professional development opportunities.

Tweak the environment and build habits.

We often witness someone’s behavior and automatically assume that is who they are. Research has shown, however, that the environment in which someone operates can affect their behavior.

Many incentives, motivations, cultural norms, or social pressures in a work environment can influence how people respond to change, adversity, or uncertainty. You need to look at the environment where people work to determine whether it is change-ready and where there are impediments to change.

In other words, what work environment changes should you consider to allow the new behaviors to stick?
How do you make them habits?

The C.A.L.M. Method for Analytics Transformation

Talking about change is one thing; making it happen is quite different. Simply put, it’s hard. Like any difficult problem or challenge, you must approach the task with an understanding of underlying core principles that help frame your thinking about the issue and adopt a systematic approach to ensure consistent execution over time.

Let’s start with some core principles derived from our experience and the research we have reviewed above:

Change is hard.

There is no quick fix or easy tactics.
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People are complicated,

and motivations and behaviors can be difficult to unpack, including factors relating to the work environment.
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Lasting behavioral change

is synonymous with habit formation, turning desired behaviors into daily actions. As historian Will Durant observed, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”
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Finally, since change is not short-term, you need a way to sustain effort while applying the principles we just outlined. Below, we offer up a solution — the CALM method, which stands for communications, alignment, learning, and measurement.

Let’s start by defining change management as a systematic process helping individuals, teams, and organizations plan for and adapt to change. An important point to note is that change is continuous and accelerating. Therefore, leaders should think of change management as continuous learning or improvement. This reframing of change management is critical for organizations working to create more adaptive organizations as the practices outlined below become the foundation for a new way of working.

How does CALM work?


  • The first job for leaders is to establish a clear and compelling rationale for the change–the “why.” This requires paying close attention to the context for the change and explicitly defining the problem using clear communication. Leaders often gloss over this and assume broader stakeholders have the same understanding of the problem. A good rule of thumb: spend at least 50% of your initial communications on defining the problem using a written narrative rather than a slide deck.
  • For communication to stick, it must be clear, concise, consistent, and continuous. It’s not about launching and moving on; it’s about constantly communicating, getting feedback, learning, and adjusting. Communications assets like executive summaries, FAQs, and case studies help reinforce the message. Roadshows, town halls, and workshops are effective vehicles for delivering the message.
  • Leaders must be forthright in acknowledging that uncertainty is inherent in everything they discuss and clear about the assumptions underlying the strategy. This level of openness helps build trust — an essential precondition for getting people moving in the same direction.
  • Effective communications build the foundation for better alignment, the next step in the process.


Alignment activities keep stakeholders on the same page, gauging where there is a misunderstanding, lack of support, or resistance.

It happens at three levels:

1. aligning analytics strategy and people,

2. people and decision processes, and

3. decision processes and behaviors.

Alignment, or engagement, requires conversations, listening to concerns, and processing feedback. Unlike communications, which tend to be one-to-many, gaining alignment is more of a one-to-one approach that typically includes coaching, workshops, roadshows, and counseling. However, just as with communications, transparency is essential to building trust. Alignment creates the conditions for effective learning by providing the context for behavioral change — aligning the work people do with the required behaviors.


Learning is the critical enabler for transforming change into continuous improvement. It combines traditional instructor-led and self-directed learning with three clear distinctions related to the curriculum and the approach to learning; it:

1.  Combines mindset training and technical skill sets,

2.  Is highly contextual, tied to specific decision processes and the requisite behaviors supporting those processes, and

3.  continuously reinforced with the intent of turning practices into habits.

In addition, continuous learning leads to mastery, a crucial element of human motivation. As employees learn and grow, mastering the essential skills and concepts, they experience positive reinforcement that triggers a flywheel effect, driving more of the desired behaviors of data-driven organizations, which at their core are committed to learning and adapting.


The primary goal of measurement is to track the degree to which the change effort impacts predetermined success criteria. In other words, is the change having the desired impact? While setting and measuring goals related to company performance is important, they are not sufficient for driving change. Instead, organizations need to decide on the activities and behavioral changes that will drive the desired overall change and measure those. These activities serve as the “leading indicators,” or inputs of change, with the goals (performance metrics) serving as the lagging indicators or outputs. Tools like a Change Scorecard track change activities, employee sentiment, and behavior change metrics that leaders review to gauge progress and determine where they may need to intervene and modify activities or communications.


As you read through the description above regarding the CALM method, it’s tempting to convince yourself that you are already doing these things. For example, you may communicate effectively, have all-hands meetings, provide training, and track employee sentiment. These are all necessary preconditions for a change-ready organization. Still, they are insufficient in today’s competitive environment, where data-driven, people-centered organizations that learn and adapt will experience a significant competitive advantage.

Leaders must start by reframing the problem and focusing more on preparing the workforce for change. This requires continuous effort, adapting with smaller course corrections, rather than rewarding people for surviving disruptive change through heroic efforts when it does arrive. Leaders must embrace change as synonymous with continuous improvement and embed it in the culture. To accomplish this, organizations must treat change management like other mature processes, ensuring it is clearly defined, disciplined, measured, and improved.

The CALM method is to knowledge worker productivity just like the Agile approach is to robust software development; both continuously improve the speed and quality of a specific output. In the case of Agile, it is a functioning software solution; with CALM, it is organizational decision-making. The change that CALM makes possible is faster and higher quality decisions throughout the organization — the essence of a data-driven enterprise.