Data-Driven Work Cultures: Clark Twiddy Of Twiddy & Company On How To Effectively Leverage Data To Take Your Company To The Next Level
An Interview With Pierre Brunelle
Make sure in addition to your data you have a culture of dialogue and an insistence on speed. Data can’t thrive without the second two. For example, our biggest weekly meeting is our research and development session where we invite a good portion of our staff to attend and participate in the dialogue around data.
As part of our series about “How To Effectively Leverage Data To Take Your Company To The Next Level”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Clark Twiddy of Twiddy & Company along North Carolina’s famous Outer Banks.
Clark is the President of Twiddy & Company, a hospitality and asset management firm along North Carolina’s Outer Banks celebrating almost 45 years in business. He is also fortunate to serve on the boards of private, public, non-profit groups to include acting as the current chair of North Carolina’s Vacation Rental Management Association. A US Navy veteran, he is the proud father of two daughters and always picks the New York Giants to win the Super Bowl.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I have always believed in service to others as a noble calling and throughout my career have sought opportunities to do just that whether it was a for-profit role, a non-profit role, or through military service. As a firm, our profession is simply superb service to clients and when done well it’s an absolutely wonderful place to be in terms of creating real value for not only our customers but our own staff as well. I am also fortunate that, as a family business, I am able to steward in some small ways the long-term values of my parents.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I had, particularly early in my career, an unfortunate tendency to simply talk too much. As we all know, when you’re in the sales business that’s a bad thing as truly great sales professionals are always great listeners first. When I’d start to ramble on, I’d just go all over the place and there are quite a few moments where I’d end up talking about anything other than the business at hand…in hindsight, that’s just funny to me because of the big gap between my intention and outcome (I also failed to understand at the time that if I was talking too much I most likely wasn’t, in fact, selling anything).
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I’m a voracious reader so I’m always reflecting on the last book and the next book. Broadly, I read a lot of biographies as a way to learn about leadership through history’s challenges–I’ll read anything about Eisenhower or Churchill, for example. If I was stuck on the proverbial island, however, I’d really miss my copies of both the Intelligent Investor by Ben Graham for market thinking and Lee’s Lieutenants for leadership thinking. I don’t do a ton of podcasts–Masters in Business by Barry Reitholtz stands out–and read more than anything.
Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
We’re always working on what we think is over the horizon. For example, at the moment we’re working on a media initiative that isn’t tied to our business platform but our region as a whole as a way to engage not just residents but all those who love this place. Our full-time population is a little over 50,000 but as a market almost five million people a year visit so we’re thinking about this place as a visitor economy in addition to a local one. I hope this helps build the place in the minds of a much larger market as opposed to so much of what we see currently that is polarizing and divisive.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about empowering organizations to be more “data-driven.” My work centers on the value of data visualization and data collaboration at all levels of an organization. So I’m particularly interested in this topic. For the benefit of our readers, can you help explain what exactly it means to be data-driven? On a practical level, what does it look like to use data to make decisions?
It would be tough to imagine a more topical conversation at the moment–with so many global intersections occurring right now, what to make of all this information is key to our future in just about every way. Broadly, I think when we think of data we think about two questions–what do we see and why? If we unpack those questions, we highlight three things that McKinsey refers to as not only the data–that’s important but not enough–but the dialogue around that data and the speed with which it can have an impact.
When we talk about being data driven, I think it’s first and foremost a culture of decision-making that values smart and iterative frameworks for resources and priorities that involve not only robust data collection but a requirement to be agile and risk-aware in our dialogue. For example, when we talk about data and insight we also have to share context and develop “variables” in the form of what might have to occur to change the outcomes or trends. In short, being data driven is to me a willingness to embed within a culture the behavior of being a critical consumer of data.
Lastly, I’ll add that I think simplicity still wins in many cases–our minds are wired first for stories and if we can simplify data within our stories I think that’s the future right now in an age where so many of us are simply saturated.
Which companies can most benefit from tools that empower data collaboration?
Broadly, with technology being so critical in this increasingly digital age I think businesses not engaged in data science are few and far between. Indeed I think that while businesses may not become successful simply because of data they also will not thrive without an analytical process supporting their data. Certainly businesses that see even a small degree of transaction volume come to mind as well as businesses that are seeking to optimize capital and cost results.
I’d also add that smart people like to use smart and cutting edge tools–from an employment perspective, we’ve found that having smart tools attracts and retains smart people so I also don’t underestimate the value an analytical approach brings to a people-first working culture.
We’d love to hear about your experiences using data to drive decisions. In your experience, how has data analytics and data collaboration helped improve operations, processes, and customer experiences? We’d love to hear some stories if possible.
The short answer is that our efforts in this regard have been fundamental to our success as a firm over the years. We began with revenue-facing efforts using data to assess and engage the market, followed by margin-oriented efforts to make sure we have strong cost understandings toward efficiency, and now we combine that with a degree of AI-supported efforts around planning and probabilities.
That sounds daunting, to a degree, so I’m happy to share a story. As the pandemic hit, our region was essentially closed to the outside world as our elected officials made the controversial decision to close the only access points (literally, two bridges) to our destination. As you might imagine, in a visitor economy if you have no visitors you have no economy and that decision became an existential one very quickly. We used, in response, a wide range of data tools to assess and communicate, internally and externally, time frames and runways for continued expenditures as we sought to stay in business with an intact staff. To be specific, during the time the bridges were closed we lost roughly 20% of our “product” while at the same time having to rightfully give back full refunds. We used what we called a “multiplier model” to predict where we’d need t be revenue-wise to offset those losses once the bridges reopened and geared our marketing efforts around those targeted conversation (sale) rates. It was a scary and yet exciting time to be in the data business. In hindsight, I think our transparency around data–and in sharing what we didn’t know as well–helped earn a lot of trust in a time of stunning uncertainty.
Has the shift towards becoming more data-driven been challenging for some teams or organizations from your vantage point? What are the challenges? How can organizations solve these challenges?
Indeed it has–human beings simply don’t like change in most cases. I think our lessons learned there would center around getting our communications right and in the right order first and then in making sure we were sharing the objectives and results of our efforts relentlessly across the entire company. If only a small group knows, the probability of success in my mind nosedives. Add to that the idea that if we’re not sharing good information we’re inviting bad information to become the narrative–whether that’s a suspicion of layoffs, automating roles, or simply de-emphasizing people the intent comes before the data. Said differently, if we could do it all over again I’d have an all-company meeting (followed by smaller groups) that asked everyone–what would you do with better information?
Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are “Five Ways a Company Can Effectively Leverage Data to Take It To The Next Level”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Make sure in addition to your data you have a culture of dialogue and an insistence on speed. Data can’t thrive without the second two. For example, our biggest weekly meeting is our research and development session where we invite a good portion of our staff to attend and participate in the dialogue around data.
- Make it simple–if it’s too complex, it can’t be understood and if it can’t be understood it can’t be valued. Time and time again I’ve seen complicated but valuable insight be discarded in favor of the “rule of thumb” that may be full of direct or indirect human bias.
- Communicate ferociously in large groups, small groups, across reporting layers, formally, and informally. If it’s not clear why you’re using data, you’ll be surprised at the amount of resistance and time loss you’ll see within the team.
- Spend some time thinking about team composition as well as you charge groups with implementation; while it’s tempting to put similar skill sets in a room (technical, math, and so on) it’s also important to remember that it’s critical to have wide perspective in the room going back to our two key questions of “what do you see and why.” Have communicators, writers, and musicians in the room, too, and the product will improve.
- Don’t forget–for a moment–the impact of data on your customer. If your use of data isn’t enhancing your customer experience, you may be doing it for the wrong reason. While it can be tempting to chase a wide number of data projects, place impacts on your customer as a top priority.
The name of this series is “Data-Driven Work Cultures”. Changing a culture is hard. What would you suggest is needed to change a work culture to become more Data Driven?
Lead by example, first and foremost, and then communicate clearly and consistently. Keep it simple, highlight customers, and make sure results are clearly definable and accessible. Make sure people are first in your transformation.
The future of work has recently become very fluid. Based on your experience, how do you think the needs for data will evolve and change over the next five years?
If it’s not already critical, it certainly will be, particularly in the face of rising cost pressures and imperatives around speed for new markets and margins. Broadly, I think the question becomes not “do we have the ability to have and visualize data” but do we have a robust culture around dialogue and speed. I also think data usage is a great equalizer in many ways–small companies who use data well can readily compete in many ways with larger companies who inherently move a little more slowly.
Does your organization have any exciting goals for the near future? What challenges will you need to tackle to reach them? How do you think data analytics can best help you to achieve these goals?
Our goals are always consistent in that we’re customer focused, of course, and that’s based on great people taking great care of customers and those customers wanting to return. I think as we compete in a highly competitive space our ability to share simple and timely insight via recommendation to our customers is a demonstrable competitive advantage for us to remain top-of-mind for travelers in our region. In short, we’d like to highlight our value-creation model as one that’s simple, relevant, and friendly to use in a way that real people define on their own terms. If we do that, the numbers will take care of themselves.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Well, you can always bring your family and come visit us on the Outer Banks or you can follow us at either www.twiddy.com or me personally on Linked In at Clark Twiddy.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!