In Praise of the “Datavore*”

* [dey-tuh -vohr, dat-uh -vohr]def 1. -noun. One who devours data for decisions.
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Hunches or gut-feel are great but to accomplish ambitious agendas we need data. It is like oxygen.The teams, organizations, boards, colleagues and clients we work with need it.

Whether promoting or defending your cause it’s important to understand and use data in your work. Data provides confidence in description and measurement. Measuring and managing go hand in hand. To pursue and secure performance, it’s important to both understand and use data in decisions. Data serves (at least) three critical functions that matter hugely in your workplace: (1) to set direction, (2) to monitor and manage adaptation, (3) to define impact.

Direction and Description
Descriptive data profiles your key challenges or need, capacity, the environment and trends. Inputs on these factors advance strategy formulation especially if you seek differentiation or market niche. In any sector, data helps you understand your target markets with precision. It helps to solve the “what works under what conditions” puzzle. Data also provides reconnaissance on competitors, indicates progress and specifies results.

Whether you manage a program, function or an entire organization measuring is integral because it offers vital feedback. Monitoring your program or organization status is best done via something other than whim or fancy. While intuition is valuable – it can be bolstered or discarded with facts. Data provides a compass reading. If you know where you are, it’s far easier to correct, revise or redirect to get where you want to go.

Well-informed Judgments
Although too quickly associated only with educational testing or personnel reviews – evaluation has a vast range of potential use and contributions. Valid and credible evaluation relies heavily on data. Effective managers and leaders make evaluative assessments constantly.

Evaluation is the intentional use of information to support a relative judgment. It can be used as a vital gauge for your most critical choices. Capable managers must be able specify an evaluation system. Any system starts with information needs, users and appropriate indicators. Be sure your evaluation approach includes both formative and summative aspects. Formative focuses real-time on your processes, actions and operations. Summative evaluation refers to the status of outcomes or results. Collectively, over time, these comprise impact.

Friend not Foe
The original Latin noun for data means “something given.” While most people aren’t as delighted as I am when the new edition of Pocket World in Figures (The Economist) arrives — working on your “data digestion” will only improve your management acumen. Your work as a manager and leader requires powerful, viable tools and techniques. Data is far more often a friend than foe. The best advice? Fall in love with data.

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

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