It’s always a pleasure to switch from podcast host to being a podcast guest. This month Jenni Field invited me on to the Redefining Communications with Jenni Field” podcast, to talk about data-driven decision making and organisational change.

Follow the link to hear the full conversation, which flows from ‘data’ as ‘1’s and ‘0’s to the process of adding structure and context that turns data into useful information, and then ultimately into actionable insights for decision making. It went something like this:

From Data to Information: A Key to Effective Leadership

The right data gives managers and leadership the insights they need for effective leadership and management. Using data effectively, leaders can gauge how their organisation is responding to external factors and to their management decisions.  Every organisation has an optimal rate of change; change too quickly and chaos ensues, change too slowly and the organisation begins to drift, loosing momentum. Striking the correct balance is essential.

It is also really important to be aware that change can often have unintended consequences. Therefore, collecting data is the first step towards building a learning organisation that embraces an agile approach. It’s about questioning the effect of actions taken and adapting accordingly. If something is working as expected, move forward; if not, make adjustments.

The Pitfalls of Misusing Data

Jenni asked about the way that data can be “made to tell any story you want it to tell”, which put me in mind of the old Ronald Coase quote “if you torture the data long enough, it will confess to anything”. There is definitely some truth to that, and it is why you should never collect data just for the data’s sake, or to build “vanity metrics”. Data should always be collected thoughtfully, framing it in a way that asks the right questions and deepens understanding. This will include applying scientific methods, using the null hypothesis and ensuring data integrity. Relying on pseudo-science and cherry-picked data leads to poor decision-making, and it’s a trap many can fall into with the abundance of information available today and unidentified confirmation biases. Worse is specifically looking for positive reinforcement which can quickly lead to the creation of toxic micro cultures. In the light of this, making a start can be quite a daunting prospect, but it will be the first step in the journey to improvement.

Creating a Culture of Enquiry: Measuring What Truly Matters

We live in an age where we can measure almost anything, leading to an overwhelming amount of data and analytics. While analytics have their place, organisations often prioritise easily measurable metrics, neglecting the experiential and attitudinal measures. Understanding how people feel and what they think about change and their experiences is key to driving real change.

In fact, every theory of change boils down to people’s attitudes, which influence behaviours and ultimately determine an organisation’s performance. By neglecting these attitudinal measures, organisations risk implementing change blindly, without knowing if it is being effective. Boards are increasingly pressing executive teams to focus on these essential measures.

The Power of Attitudinal Measures: Keys to Successful Change

Attitudinal measures possess unique advantages. They are leading indicators, responding rapidly to change and sensitively reflecting shifts in the organisation. By asking people about their attitudes and experiences, organisations can quickly identify the success or failure of implemented programs, allowing for timely adjustments. This highlights just how influential attitudinal measures can be when it comes to gauging the overall progress and success of a project.

Making Data-Driven Change a Reality: Cultivating a Culture of Communication

For data to drive change effectively, it must be communicated effectively. When people see that their input leads to real change and improvement, they become more invested in being involved in the process. Conversely, if they believe that their answers just get stashed away in a drawer, they will have no reason to contribute.

There is no such thing as survey fatigue, just poorly designed survey processes. Surveys and data collection methods need to be well-designed, thoughtfully reported, and adequately managed. The pace of surveys needs to directly relate to the pace of change, and the speed of communication, otherwise you will simply end up with data indigestion.

Hear the full conversation in the episode, and read more in “Observing the invisible: Measuring culture“.