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Collecting Data Not a Substitute For Strategy September 5, 2012

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Management & leadership, Process engineering, strategy.
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Some years ago I managed a team that was required to present a monthly report to a VP who drove us crazy. We spent at least a week preparing for every meeting, scrambling to pull together data that we were criticized for not having available at the previous meeting. It was never enough, and we were never able to understand or anticipate what this guy was looking for. The VP wouldn’t explain the logic or underlying business need, and after a while we were all just too intimidated to do anything but grimly re-group and try again the following month. I was very glad to leave that position.

It’s possible that this VP was just that kind of manager who thought that intimidating his subordinates was part of his job description, or maybe our monthly failures gave him a useful scapegoat for more significant shortcomings elsewhere in the business. Regardless, I did notice that all of the other departments seemed to be just as occupied with repeated cycles of data collection and reporting. We all spent a lot of time searching for numbers and plotting them on graphs, I suppose in the hope that something useful would come out of it all, some truths would be revealed, and the path forward would become clear.

Over the years I’ve met a lot of managers who get this wrong. Data is a means to an end, but you don’t start with data as a substitute for strategy. The proper sequence is this: determine what it is you want to improve, or what business goal you want to achieve, then collect data to help you assess whether you’re approaching that goal. If the team understands what actions and behaviors push the needle in the right direction, then they can make the appropriate choices on their own.

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