This is the age of big data.
In practice, this means companies use digitally stored data as a way of creating business value. Quite rightly too, as properly diced, sliced and analysed digital data can guide you in everything from business direction and strategy to what colour pens you should give away at conferences.
However, it strikes me as odd that, despite an almost obsessive focus on data, companies routinely overlook an incredibly rich but hidden source. You could be using this data in your business in the same way you use the data you don’t overlook. Bizarrely, though, you probably don’t.
And the costs to your organisation are undoubtedly significant.
The hidden data I’m talking about is not the hard digital stuff you store in the cloud but the personal knowledge, anecdotal, opinion based data held by your employees.
Think about it. In solving problems, making decisions, taking risks, we all either do it on our own or involve others. However, how often do you involve everyone you could or should? In meetings, for example, how often to you go round every person present and ask for their input on an issue? More likely the issue is discussed by just two or three people present, usually the high performers, with perhaps a cursory ‘what does anybody else think?’ as way of rubber stamping the solution that has already been agreed.
This is the traditional approach to doing business. Working norms have been established, the most vocal are comfortable leading the discussion, the least vocal are happy in the background. Workable solutions are determined and subsequently executed, no time is wasted and it works.
Or at least it has worked until now.
Today the performance of teams is prized over that of individuals and the behaviours of your most talented are not always those that lead to effective teamwork. For example, taking the lead and arriving at a solution quickly isn’t very collaborative, and high performers are less good at letting everyone have their say and listening attentively before allowing the team to come up with an answer.
Hard data on this are not easy to come by but there was a small study by the Department of Management Systems at the University of Waikato in New Zealand, where they analysed videos of ten face-to-face meetings. They found that 30% of available airtime was taken by the highest single contributor and over 50% was taken by the two highest contributors. Others present said relatively little, meaning the data they might have contributed and which could have made a significant difference was unspoken and remained hidden.
That was a small piece of research from nearly 20 years ago, so maybe not the most compelling evidence. However, given that this article is about the value of soft data, a more qualitative approach seems appropriate.
And the beauty of this approach is you can conduct the research yourself.
Next time you’re in a meeting try observing what’s actually going on. Does everyone get equal airtime or do two or three people take the lion’s share?
Just observe what happens in meetings in your organisation.
If everyone contributes and is given equal airtime you’re getting access to a goldmine of valuable data. On the other hand, if one, two or a few people do all the talking and everybody else says not much at all, the chances are you’re missing out on a lot of hidden data that could make a real difference. Some of the results we’ve measured with our clients are: improved motivation and increased contribution from previously ignored employees; reduced complaint escalations, improving the client relationship and freeing up resources and senior manager time; retaining contracts where the client is just about to pull the plug; substantially increasing revenue through selling existing clients further services. Plus, there are potential longer term impacts that weren’t measured, such as improved client retention, reduced employee turnover, enhanced company reputation and new client wins.
All down to making sure everybody gets a turn to contribute.
Of course, you can only know the difference this hidden data can make if you bring it out into the open and actually use it. If you’re not doing it already, your company will almost certainly benefit from doing so and some of those benefits could be significant.
Oh yeah, just one other thing. All this hidden data I’m talking about won’t cost a penny once you’ve learned to access it.
It’s got to be worth a try.