Data. Love it or despise. Just don’t ignore it. There are often equal amounts of art and science when it comes to leadership. So, let’s take a look at the more scientific side for a few moments.
A Tale of Two Organizations
I often split my time between two very different organizations. One is completely data driven. It measures every little aspect of its operation. It can tell you what is happening at any given moment at any of its far-flung operations that are even at the fringes of civilization. It can tell you how its people and products are performing in absolute real time.
The other is the farthest thing from it. It can’t tell you with any real degree of certainty how many people attended its last event. It does a fairly decent job of the financial reporting of contributions. But it often has no clue how its people or programs are performing.
Now, in complete transparency, one is a commercial venture and one is a non-profit venture. But, just because a venture is set up to be a non-profit, does that mean that their demands for data and data-driven decisions would be any less than the profit-making one?
I think one of the most striking differences is the demand for data from the leadership when these two organizations are compared. In one, the leaders make stewardship and controls a high priority. In the vernacular of one organization, these kinds of data-driven stewardship activities are the “license to operate.” While in the other there is almost a “pride” in the absence of actionable data. I have had leaders tell me many times that they are proud of the fact that they don’t know the day to day details of their operation.
What is the Leadership Lesson?
As leaders, we should demand data. The data should be collected regularly and in an objective and scientific manner. The data should be clear and concise and it should accurately reflect the activities and interests of the organization. The data should be collected and reported regularly and should be presented in such a way as to provide the ability to spot trends in growth, or unfortunately, trends that point to a decline.
In other words, we should demand data that is actionable. The data should tell me if the organization is seeing growth or not. It should show if the growth is across the board, or if it is confined to just pockets within the organization. The data should demonstrate whether or not those who are managing parts of the organization are performing according to how they have been tasked. Note, this makes a huge assumption that these key managers and leaders have been given objectives, goals, and the resources with which to accomplish them.
I wrote an article several years ago that touches tangentially on this topic. It reminds the reader that “We get what we INspect, not what we EXpect.” Inspection produces data and data is critical to a leader being able to make the kinds of decisions that are necessary to move an organization forward.
Data. Do you love it? Do you despise it?
You can choose your personal feelings about data. But, let me tell you this. Organizations that embrace data are the organizations that have the most likelihood of success. They are well run. They are disciplined with their capital. They are good stewards of the capital entrusted to them. And they make decisions that have a basis in reality that allows the to better execute the vision (the art side of leadership) with greater certainty and a better chance for success and growth.