A Simple Mission to Change a Mindset

Peer Practices
Written by Erica Marroquin

Pat Brickson

Director, Enterprise Data Systems

Digi-Key Electronics

Digi-key is no stranger to change. They adopted digital transformations early and quickly, beginning as a small mail-order company, but quickly embracing the dot-com era. In 1996, they launched their first website, building the foundation for their e-commerce business which has made them one of the fastest growing distributors of electronic components in the world today. 

The Innate Barriers

Spending his career advancing through leadership at Digi-key, Pat Brickson, director of enterprise data systems, strove to improve himself and his team. At the start of 2019, Brickson examined his team and his leadership style to develop a goal for the new year. 

“After reading a handful of leadership books, I realized that we don’t necessarily have a unified vision. Clearly, we all know what we are doing in our jobs, but we don’t always march in lockstep. We can be focused on the day-to-day without really thinking about where that road is leading,” said Brickson. 

Brickson’s team is split between two offices with about a third at the headquarters in Thief River Falls, Minnesota and the other two-thirds in Minneapolis-St. Paul. With a five-hour drive between the two, the leadership team rarely meets in-person. The separation and undefined focus led to challenges within the enterprise data department. 

“We feel some of the pains that so many other enterprises do like data democratization. There are inefficiencies in the way we at Digi-key report data, attain insights and make decisions based on gut instinct opposed to data; however, by recognizing that, we hoped we could somehow start to close that gap,” said Brickson.  

The Simple Solution

Soon after identifying his team’s missing foundational piece, Brickson brought the group’s feedback to and consulted with his leadership, the vice president of human resources and a third-party consultant about hosting a couple of strategic planning sessions to discuss unifying the department. 

“My leadership team was certainly on board with us taking the time to bring my team together to work towards closing some of the gaps between the data team and the business,” said Brickson.  

Over the next 6 months, the team spent a total of 3 business days meeting with the consultant to work on their strategic plan, including their mission statement. 

Initially, their strategic planning sessions included all the individuals that would be impacted, vice president, director, managers and senior-level reports. After the first meeting, they decided these meetings would be best held with only directors and managers, in order to promote more open dialogue among the team. 

“We started off with brainstorming sessions, moved to exercises like ‘start, stop, continue’ and then that naturally led to deeper conversations. They were exhausting meetings at times, because there was a lot of trying to get on the same page,” said Brickson. 

To alleviate some of this distress and tension, Brickson decided it would be a good idea to revisit their mission statement as a team. In the past Brickson and his team had developed a mission statement, but it was not something that stuck. When asked by his leadership, what the previous mission statement was, he told him that he would have to go look it up. 

They decided that a mission statement would not be useful if it were not memorable. With the guidance of his leadership, Brickson and his team defined a simple and memorable mission statement. 

“It has to be actionable. My vice president came back with the phrase ‘actionable insights’ and that really resonated. We changed our mission statement from a long, convoluted thing that none of us could remember to: ‘We deliver actionable insights,’” said Brickson. 

Once they were able to lay down the foundation of their work, the team moved forward brainstorming more ideas. The team emerged with more projects and ideas than they were able to execute on, so prioritization was critical. In the event an important project had time, budget and resource constraints, the team approached the problem more creatively to ensure the project’s execution. 

“The clear mission statement was certainly the most impactful. I witnessed it change the way my extended team approached the work. It was a mindset change,” said Brickson.  

The Unexpected Impact

Brickson’s team would reference the mission statement when working with internal partners. They began to dig deeper into why the business was asking for the data. What was the business using it for? What is the problem they are trying to solve for? The shift in the mindset began to open up new opportunities for the team and better prepare them for the impacts of the pandemic. 

Starting in late March, Digi-Key experienced new demand patterns increasing the activity in their production distribution center (PDC). To support the PDC staff during this challenging time in their personal lives, non-PDC employees stepped up with an all-hands-on-deck approach to meet their customer’s needs. 

“So, I even ended up going in and picking parts and cutting tape because we all pitched in,” said Brickson. 

When they realized they needed a more sustainable solution, they constructed a cross-functional analytics team, which included their both data scientists and analytics developers. Their purpose was to support the team’s delivery owner, a Senior Manager from Digi-Key’s Operational Excellence team. Digi-key’s data scientists used their new mindset to approach the staffing problem at hand. They targeted order predictions, asking questions like: When are most orders placed? How many shifts do we have? Does this meet the needs of our orders? 

By doing this, Brickson’s team was able to provide the delivery owner the data requested and a solution to the problem. 

“What they came up with was well received within the company and helped get a foothold with the executive leadership. It built more trust than we had before and demonstrated that data is valuable,” said Brickson. 

Although in March 2019, Brickson might not have been able to tell the story of the impact of his plan. He had a goal in mind and knew what he wanted to achieve going into it. Brickson’s goal was to unite his team and to break down the geographical barrier. He leveraged the buy-in and support of his leadership team to carve time out of his team’s schedules to host a series of strategic sessions. 

The managers walked into the meeting as a group, but they walked out of it a team guided by a simple, memorable mission statement: We deliver actionable insights.


Special thanks to Pat Brickson and Digi-Key Electronics.

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