Supercharge data momentum

Written by Carrie Majewski, Advanced Analytics, SQA Group

When was the last time you learned something new? I mean really learned something new? Still thinking? I’ll go first.

Two months ago, I did something that both exhilarated and terrified me by signing up and attending a half-day financial training workshop called, “Understanding Financial Statements for the Non-Financial Executive.” A workshop all about understanding core finance and accounting concepts, learning how to read financial statements, and being able to pinpoint financial statement nuances among different industries/verticals.

As a total right-brainer — and someone who sees the world through a sea of words, idioms, grammar, and stories — this was intimidating work for me. But I’ve long believed that as leaders we need to get ahead of things that scare and excite us and commit to owning our accelerated understanding in that focus area… versus waiting for someone to ask us to take action in that area and then feeling like it’s a race to catch up.

Now I’ll be honest. The course was hard! I mean really hard! It no doubt brought me back to my high school math days, along with those dreaded teenage feelings that I might never learn how to crack calculus.

But it was also incredibly empowering and motivating to remember that we are always one decision away from shifting our understanding from “not knowing” to “foundational” to dare I say eventually “strategic” in terms of our comprehension and application!

The business world continually throws pressure at us as leaders to understand and to shift from foundational to strategic, particularly when it comes to megatrends, macro shifts, and emerging technologies. Just consider the pace of adoption when it comes to innovation as a reminder of how important it is for us to keep up. What is nascent and disruptive one day — think cloud, VoIP, AI, IoT — becomes ubiquitous and even commonplace seemingly days later. The risk of falling behind has never been greater, as the window to be among the Early Adopters is ever-shrinking, while the consequence of falling into the late laggard group has never been so steep.

This pressure to keep up is perhaps no more felt than when we consider the impact of data and advanced analytics in business. Let’s dive in a bit further.


The race to keep up

It seems like only years ago that terms like “big data,” “artificial intelligence,” and “data science” were first becoming prevalent… often conjuring up images of overwhelming Excel spreadsheets, robots, and mathematicians running algorithms at cubicles.

But today, you’d be hard-pressed to find any leader who isn’t thinking about things like…

  • Is my department data-backed or gut-based when it comes to decision-making?
  • Are we measuring the right things?
  • Does our data tell a positive story of our impact on the business?
  • Is our data trustworthy, accessible, and leverageable?
  • What impact will AI/ML have on my role/my team?
  • Is my boss expecting me/my team to do more with data?
  • Am I keeping up the way my fellow peer leaders are when it comes to analytics adoption?

In many ways, when it comes to data and advanced analytics, it’s not enough to just have a foundational understanding. All leaders are expected to be data-confident — leveraging data and analytics daily to power their teams, decisions, and focus areas.


Regardless of what you lead — Data, People/HR, Marketing, Sales, etc. — you can always supercharge your team/function’s efforts around data. Here are 3 ways to immediately propel your data maturity further:

  • Set intentional vision: What do you want to use data for? And more importantly, WHY? Set bold vision for what data needs to do for your department (think business goals versus using data to report on what happened). For leaders of People/Culture, that might mean unearthing correlations that allow you to predict at-risk employees well before they quit (more on that here). For Marketing leaders that might mean illuminating dark data around voice of customer to land on your next best product offering. For leaders of Data, it might be helping the organization unlock hidden revenue opportunities via efficiency plays. Align your data vision to the overarching corporate strategy and think of the questions you most need to answer with data.
  • Quick wins: In addition to focusing on your long-term data vision, consider what quick wins you can have with data. Things like: unearthing correlations and new patterns from the data you already have, standing up artificial intelligence proofs of concept, remedying quality and integration issues, unlocking new growth opportunities, and so on. Consider what data you already have that you can harness, as well as what new data you can create instantly. These quick wins are a great way to build data momentum and buy-in for how you’re approaching your data leadership.
  • KPIs for today and for tomorrow: One of the best ways to supercharge your data efforts? Consider what you need to measure for today, as well as what you need to measure for tomorrow. Start with the tried-and-true KPIs (employee retention, marketing qualified leads, YoY growth, sales pipeline, etc.) and ensure that not only do you have KPIs stood up, but that you are analyzing the data you’re collecting via dashboards and visualizations. Once you’ve nailed the tried-and-true KPIs, consider what you need to measure for tomorrow. One of the ways we help our clients think about this is by asking them, “What do you want to measure that feels immeasurable?” By removing the constraints of what “feels” measurable, as well as what data you believe you do or do not have, the real creativity unlocks in terms of what you actually wish to measure next.

Our ability to shift from foundational to impactful is always within reach, particularly when it comes to business imperatives for today and tomorrow. In the world of data, what move do you want to make next?

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