Used poorly, data can overwhelm and dishearten, but when you use it judiciously, data is a vital tool to motivate your team and get results. There are four steps you can take to avoid data’s dark side.
I was talking with Adam, a leader who was frustrated with his company’s results. His forecasts for the next few weeks weren’t where he wanted them to be.
He showed me the data, and I asked to look at the past year along with the next few weeks. As we reviewed the numbers, one thing was obvious: results had improved. His trend line was unmistakable–everything was heading in the right direction.
Then there’s Sarah, a contact center Director Karin met with, whose phone beeped with hourly rankings of quality, efficiency, and sales followed by calls from her boss asking, “Have you seen the numbers?”
Sarah cut short her meeting with Karin, “I’m sorry, but I’ve got to huddle the team. We’ve got to get to 94 by the end of the day.”
Karin asked, “What are you planning as your key message?”
Sarah looked at her as if she were crazy. “Ninety-four,” she said.
Adam and Sarah had both fallen into a common trap: death-by-data.
Data’s Dark Side
Metrics matter. A balanced scorecard with wisely chosen key performance indicators can reinforce your strategy and align your team’s actions to goals.
But there’s a dark side to data if you’re not careful how you use it. Data’s dark side shows up when you:
Miss the big picture.
This was Adam’s mistake. He focused on one month and ignored the annual results. His results were improving. The actions he and his team had taken were paying off, but he had missed that and was beating himself up because of his narrow focus on a few red numbers.
Focus on the score, but not the game.
This was Sarah’s challenge. Her extreme focus on “94” couldn’t possibly motivate her team or help them figure out how to get there. That kind of myopic focus on a number will either paralyze you or cause panicked reactivity. With her panicked focus on the score, Sarah didn’t focus on calling the plays that would help her team win.
Measure too often.
Measurement helps us to focus on our goals and align our behavior with the results we want to achieve. But measuring too often also leads to paralysis or reactivity. For example, imagine if you’re trying to lose weight. Weighing yourself three times a week, or even daily, is enough. Weighing yourself every hour would make you crazy.
Use bad data.
This is a tricky data-trap. Numbers appear to be solid. You can trust the data, right? Well, that depends. Are you measuring the right things? Were the numbers collected with integrity? Do the reports match up with what you see and experience? If not, the data can lead to poor decisions.
To avoid data’s dark side as you motivate your team, think of how you use data to drive. You’ll glance at the speedometer frequently to monitor your speed. You check your GPS less frequently and your fuel level every once in a while.
These are healthy, useful ways to use data to inform yourself of where you’re going and what you need to do to get there.
Motivate Your Team: Using Data to Drive, Not Drown
Here are four ways to use data effectively when motivating your team and help everyone achieve meaningful results.
Take a look at this graph:
If you hope to see these numbers decline, how should you feel? Is this good and you can celebrate? Or is it negative and you need to re-examine your activity? Should you change what you’re doing?
Without more context, you just don’t know. Now, take a look at this data in context:
The trend-line goes down, but it fluctuates. With this perspective, you can have confidence that what you’re doing works. Maybe it’s time to celebrate!
*This is real data. I’ve improved my nutrition and exercise and have been losing weight. There are day-to-day fluctuations, but the trend goes in the right direction.
One of the best ways to put data in context is to talk about experiences and stories. Share examples of how it works, what it means, or why it’s important. Talking with Adam, we focused on the story: results were improving. At their current rate, they would turn the corner within three months. If they wanted to get there faster, they could do things differently.
Focus on behaviors.
One way to avoid drowning in data’s dark side is to focus on productive behaviors. You know that if you monitor your speed and speed up smoothly, you’ll likely avoid a speeding ticket.
Whatever the daily number says, if I eat well and move often, my weight will move in the direction I want it to.
What are the critical behaviors that will give your team success when they’re consistent? Use your 5×5 communication plan to reinforce these critical behaviors and why they matter. Model them and hold one another accountable for them. Results will follow.
Measure enough, but not too often.
How often should you check your metrics? The answer is: as often as necessary to keep you on track and only that. A good guideline is to think about how long it will take you to see results when you implement a change. If you make a change today, will you see results in a day? A week? A month? Six months?
Different business activities have different time frames. You want to check the numbers often enough to confirm positive results or to catch problems when something changes. More often than wastes time and focus better spent on your critical behaviors.
Validate the numbers.
Data isn’t reality. The numbers are only useful if they reflect what’s actually happening.
Measurements are not what you do; measurement represents what you do.
Periodically compare the data you get to what’s happening in real life. If your gut tells you something doesn’t match up, trust that instinct and figure out what’s happening. These moments are often opportunities to improve a process and create better outcomes.
4 Ways to Motivate Your Team with Data
- Get perspective–put data in context and tell the stories.
- Focus on behaviors–consistently communicate the activities that create success.
- Measure enough, but not too often–often enough to confirm results and catch problems.
- Validate the numbers–compare reports to what actually happens and get numbers you can trust.
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