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The Head, Heart, and Herd of Change Management

The Head, Heart, and Herd of Change Management

Change is hard. Humans are hard-wired for constancy. Change is threatening: we might not succeed with the new regimen; we might lose our position, power, or prestige; or we might not have time to learn and master new skills. Also, change is exhausting: it requires conscious effort over the course of many weeks and months—and one slip sends us back to the start.

Whether they know it or not, data analytics managers are change agents. They introduce new tools, features, reports, and data sets that require people to change the way they acquire information and make decisions. Although some people welcome change, most resist—either consciously or not—even if those changes can make them more productive, effective, and successful. For data analytics managers to succeed, they must master the art of change.

Principles of Change Management. There are three principles to execute change in an organization (or within ourselves). A change strategy must appeal to the “head”, the “heart”, and the “herd”. You need to apply all three principles to drive change and make it a new corporate (or personal) habit.

I discovered the principles by interviewing successful data analytics managers for my book, “The Secrets of Analytical Leaders: Insights from Information Insiders”. Most applied the principles naturally without training or prior knowledge. I got the labels for the three principles from the book, “Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard” by Chip and Dan Heath, which applies the principles to everyday life. I highly recommend it.

1. Appeal to the Head

Most data analytics managers recognize that they need to educate people about an upcoming change, why it’s needed, and how it will affect them personally. The changes could be organizational--a new hire, a reorganization, or a merger with another company--or they could be technical--a new report, a new tool, or a new feature that affects how they use information to make decisions. 

For major changes, astute managers schedule an in-person meeting to describe the change and answer questions. They outline the rationale for the change, when it will occur, how it will affect people’s jobs or work, and what people need to do to make the change. For minor changes, they might communicate the relevant information through various channels (e.g., email, web, social media) targeted at each customer segment affected by the change.

Whether through face-to-face or electronic communication, successful change agents take the time to educate everyone about the change, why it’s needed, and how it will affect them personally. They inform people in advance and repeat the message continuously so everyone is aware of the change and the transition goes smoothly.

2. Appeal to the Heart 

But educating people is not enough. For many workers, the message goes in one ear and out the other. They are too busy to pay attention until the change actually arrives. Then, they are ill-prepared and lash out in self-defense; they do everything possible to sabotage the change and the agents driving it.

To avoid this common scenario, successful managers frame the change emotionally. Either they pitch the change as part of a higher cause that resonates with people’s sense of patriotism, loyalty, or community, or they appeal to their individual desires for advancement, compensation, or recognition.

Patriotic messages resonate when the change is necessary to ensure the survival of the company, to thwart a potent new competitor, or preserve the company’s or team’s core principles. Individualistic messages resonate when the change is designed to improve worker productivity. Here, tweaking bonus plans or recognizing workers who exhibit the desired behavior gives financial or emotional incentive to change.

3. Appeal to the Herd

The last principle is the most powerful. Humans are herding animals. Research now shows that what we think, do, and say is influenced to an extraordinary degree by the people around us. People who grow up with obese people are more likely to be obese than those who live with non-obese people. We know this intuitively. Our accents, political and religious beliefs, and personal habits (e.g., smoking, exercise, eating) are shaped to a large degree by the people around us.

A research study on how to get kids to eat peas illustrates this principle. The study found that the three ways most parents try to get their children to eat peas or any vegetables do not work: persuasion, coercion, and bribery. The only way to get kids to eat their peas, according to the study, is to place them with kids who like to eat peas. The social influence of our peers overcomes any amount of internal resistance.

Data analytics managers need to identify the characteristics of individuals who exhibit the desired change and then amplify that behavior through social media and other communications channels. They need to hire people who will exhibit the desired behavior, and potentially fire those who refuse to change if their refusal prevents the team or organization from tipping into adoption.


The most successful data analytics leaders I’ve known have mastered three things: sales, marketing, and change management. The last is most important. It’s easy to champion new technologies, it’s hard to get the masses of people to follow. The true test of a leader is how many people adopt the change they espouse—whether a new strategy, initiative, technology, or feature.

To ensure high levels of adoption, successful data analytics leaders understand the importance of change management. They don’t leave change to a corporate committee or department. They devise a change management strategy that appeals to the head, the heart, and the herd.

Wayne Eckerson

Wayne Eckerson is an internationally recognized thought leader in the business intelligence and analytics field. He is a sought-after consultant and noted speaker who thinks critically, writes clearly and presents...

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