Look for Hay in your Haystack

Every day you and your colleagues experience an “infolanche.” Quite simply an avalanche of information pours in to your desk through the phone and computer hour after hour each day.  Skillful navigation of this overload is critical to progress. Digging out is a big job. This deluge creates yet another challenge to managing and leading.

What’s the right information for your attention?

Focus, Focus, Focus

Our resident psychometrician often suggests that clients “look for hay in your haystack.” Before  launching a hurried search begin with careful thought. In a recent preschool literacy evaluation we conducted the standard for performance was a score of 62. One of the exciting programs we assessed scored 58. Did it fail? By the explicit federal standard it did. By any other measure, it was a huge success. How could that be?

Before the literacy intervention, children entering the program were tested by several valid and reliable tools. After a school year of experience with the program, children were tested again. They showed substantial gains, in fact, statistically significant changes in pre-literacy awareness, knowledge and skills. The program was effective but risked discard because a pre-determined value was not secured. Moreover, by analyzing student gains by teacher, it became obvious which teachers had delivered a high quality “dose” with fidelity to program design. This provided the clues on which teacher’s could improve and how they needed to adapt their instruction practice.

Great Questions Matter

Asking great questions is the first most important step sorting your haystack. Great questions guide data navigation towards high value information. Specification of your information needs can focus your data collection, analysis and interpretation.  How you frame your inquiry matters lots. In the preceding example, the right question was: Did the program positively affect literacy skills? It would be an error to “quit early” and simple ask: Did we make the standard score?

Data-driven decisions are the new daily bread. There’s plenty of information to use and confuse  us. The next time you review data, recognize what vital clues it provides for the challenges your organization faces . If you are clear about what questions must be explored, it will help you sort your pile.

Lisa Wyatt Knowlton, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. She is also a W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. For more information, see : www.pwkinc.com

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