Data analytics: Are we there yet?

Organizational data analytics is a journey, not a destination.

Managing big data
Managing big data

Remember what travel was like before GPS? You could usually manage if you were traveling along familiar roads, but go on a long trip and it could get exciting. Which exit were we looking for? Had we passed the red barn? Did the gas station attendant say to turn after three lights or four? And let's not forget the kids in the back seat asking, "When will we get there?"

Okay, that part hasn't changed, although the good news is that they can usually see the GPS screen too and answer their own questions.

The great thing about GPS is that it lets us get from wherever we are to wherever we want to go. Not only that, but it also has access to data that lets it figure out exactly where we are in the first place! Let's face it, if we don't know where we're starting, it's very hard to figure out how to get where we want to go.

This, of course, is exactly why in the corporate talent management setting any non-trivial organizational change is so difficult: even if we know where we want to go, that is, what the organization should look like, rarely do we actually know where we're starting. I realize that seems a bit counterintuitive: we can see the business, we can talk to the people.

Unfortunately, in the context of our GPS analogy, that's a little like saying that we can look out the window and see trees or a street: that's great, but what does that tell us about where we are? Without a larger context, the information we do have is of limited value. So what to do?

Fortunately, this is an area where big data can be helpful. It's important to remember that however you define "big data," it is not about the data; it's about the insights that data analytics provide in supporting data-driven decision-making.

Data analytics can give us a snapshot of what is actually going on: it can tell us where we are starting. Granted, it still takes someone with knowledge of organizational behavior and psychology to turn that data into a road map, but it's still a lot better than guesswork.

For example, consider the chart shown in Figure 1. It's a simple age distribution in a manufacturing company, produced using a data analytics engine developed by Macromicro. But what it tells us is that this manufacturer has a leadership vacuum waiting to happen: note the bulge of younger, hence newer, employees, and the second bulge of considerably older employees. Note also how thin it is in between.

It doesn't take Mr. Spock from Star Trek to figure out that most of the company leadership and experience is in the older group. At some point, those older employees will be retiring. Who is going to be running the show at that point?

OK, we're done, right? We can all see the data and now we know what to do: train people. Well, not so fast. Being able to see this information is both the blessing and the curse of data analytics. Just because we can figure out what our data means and see what to do about it does not mean that we know what to do about it.

By way of analogy, getting an IQ test might tell you something about how smart you are, or at least give you a number, but it doesn't tell you anything specific about your educational needs: even knowing that you need a more challenging curriculum is not a very precise formula. It takes expertise to turn those IQ scores into specific educational plans.

Similarly, knowing that this leadership vacuum will eventually exist doesn't give us the knowledge of who to develop or how to do it. The analytic engine gives us the facts we need, the trained human brain enables us to turn those facts into useful information and purpose.

I know, this is disappointing: No actual GPS for organizational change or growth that enables us to mindlessly make each turn. Unlike the landscape, organizations are never static. Data analytics can give us the information we need to successfully navigate that ever-changing organizational landscape, but it is not a destination -- data analytics is a journey.

Stephen Balzac is an expert on leadership and organizational development. A consultant, author and professional speaker, he is president of 7 Steps Ahead, an organizational development firm focused on helping businesses get unstuck. Steve is the author of The McGraw-Hill 36-Hour Course in Organizational Development and Organizational Psychology for Managers. He is also a contributing author to Volume 1 of Ethics and Game Design: Teaching Values Through Play.

For more information, or to sign up for Steve's monthly newsletter, visit 7stepsahead.com. You can also contact Steve at 978-298-5189 or steve@7stepsahead.com.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Show Comments

Latest Videos

Launch marketing council Episode 5: Retailer and supplier

In our fifth and final episode, we delve into the relationship between retailer and supplier and how it drives and influences launch marketing strategies and success. To do that, we’re joined by Campbell Davies, group general manager of Associated Retailers Limited, and Kristin Viccars, marketing director A/NZ, Apex Tool Group. Also featured are Five by Five Global managing director, Matt Lawton, and CMO’s Nadia Cameron.

More Videos

Great read. I agree that it should be a perfect balance between interacting with your customers and knowing your brand. As a business, yo...

Caroline Scott

7 ways CMOs can improve their customer engagement game

Read more

Very true. Team development helps improve collaboration among the team members. I was able to improve my team's collaboration skills by t...

Quent Sinder

Why empowering others can help make you a great leader

Read more

CRM is a very good software that can help you succeed in your business. In my company, this system has allowed me to improve customer rel...

Anna Janicka

Sensis rebrands to Thryv and brings business software to Australian SMBs

Read more

AI Leasing Assistants have finally arrived for the multifamily industry. With so many to choose from it can be hard to figure out which i...

Alice Labs Pte. Ltd.

CMO's top 8 martech stories for the week - 6 May 2021

Read more

Nowadays, when everything is being done online, it is good to know that someone is trying to make an improvement. As a company, you are o...

Marcus

10 lessons Telstra has learnt through its T22 transformation

Read more

Blog Posts

The playbook to develop strategic brand moats

Warren Buffet is an unlikely ally for marketers. But his belief businesses need strategic moats that increase their value in the market while acting as barriers to competitors can offer marketers a new playbook for brand building and driving growth.

Fabian Di Marco

Founder and managing director, Tzu & Co

Why if marketing is all you do, you’ll never be very good at it

OK, so you’re probably thinking: “Here comes another article to badger me about living in my bubble.” And also, “I bet this bubble-bashing piece will go on to explain how I can achieve better results through some heady dose of new life experiences, new routines and annoyingly different opinions on social media.”

Dane Smith and Toby Harrison

Ogilvy Australia

A leader’s role in rebuilding a culture of confidence

Every day, there are new predictions and studies on the future of work, the state of the economy and the unfolding global pandemic. All of which creates uncertainty and heightens the imperative of effective leadership.

Michelle Gibbings

Workplace expert, author

Sign in