Organizations can become completely paralyzed by what to track and how to track it.
As a business owner in “The Information Age” you have access to a wealth of information. Modern business software allows you to track almost any imaginable metric, but unless you’re an expert, it can be a challenge to interpret those metrics and understand the impact they have on your business. For instance, you may be tracking profit margin or lifetime client value, but do you know how many referrals you get from each client, or how fast you are going through your capital?
Clay Shirky coined this accurately in 2009: “We don’t have information overload, we have filter failure.”
Founders often start their companies with a single core feature or innovative idea that becomes the basis for the company. However, as their company matures, they start to have difficulty developing the new revenue streams and product life cycles that would help the business transition and grow. It’s not that these entrepreneurs aren’t capable, there are just too many balls in the air.
Because of this, significant portions of a company’s investment into their systems and technologies are often lost as a result of ineffective project implementation. High development costs and an overwhelming number of metrics may not have a significant impact or identify if the business is even heading in the right direction.
What can you, as a business owner, do to keep your company on track?
1) Before you start:
a. Assess the business and financial information you are already collecting.
b. How much information can you (as an individual) realistically take in?
c. Do you have the right number of people with the right capabilities?
2) Be realistic. You don’t have to become the next Twitter or Google overnight. Plan out what goals or milestones you can reasonably accomplish in a quarter or year and identify the steps you need to take to get there.
3) Find someone in your organization who can be your information champion, and ideally has the following qualities:
a. Business and technical skills – They’ll need to understand multiple sides of the organization.
b. Strong communication and collaboration skills – They’ll need to lead and influence people in order to facilitate new initiatives and projects and keep everyone on track and aligned with your business goals. This person is a strong relationship builder to get and keep people on board.
c. Problem solver and wants to continuously develop themselves – The field is constantly changing, and new situations arise every day. Having this type of mentality is important to help your business adapt as needed.
4) Understand that data is
a. Nuanced – It takes time to figure out the relevant and useful metrics.
b. Political – Data may conflict with agendas or initiatives that are already in motion. Data quality is a shared responsibility.
c. Manipulable – It can be too narrow, too broad, or not capture the right categories of information at all.
d. Likely sucks – Chances are your data hasn’t been refined or put through analysis or testing. Chances are even higher that you don’t know how your data relates to your client experience.
Motivating others in a company to change their attitude toward collecting and analyzing data is often a challenge (especially with executives). In order to create significant and real change it is important to educate your team at all levels about the negative implications of poor data quality. It’s not just an “IT problem.”
Once you have established your goals and you’ve put the processes and people in place, stay the course.
As you gather more data about your business activities, you’ll be able to weed out what is important and what is not. Once you have your important data laid out in a way that is understandable and meaningful to your team, you’ll be able to see whether your quarterly, monthly, weekly and daily actions are moving you toward your goals or not. This is how data becomes meaningful. Although the value that good data provides is often not readily apparent, the benefits far outweigh the effort required to collect it. By following a consistent process that is actionable, repeatable, and clearly related to your most important key performance indicator, you’ll have good data that gives you real insight.