How Do You Know?

Regardless of the type of business you manage, you don’t know what you don’t know. Yet so many of us try to run our lives and our businesses without accessing the data that is available to us.

Within any business or nonprofit organisation there resides vast amounts of data. The challenge is how to collect data, analyse it and identify trends that influence future strategy and decision making.

It makes no difference what type of business you manage. In nonprofits the data is around impact and change within the community. Within a for-profit business the data is around customer needs and wants – and how they use your service or product.

Within every business resides data that can help you operate in a more effective and efficient way.

Data collection commences at the planning stage. When you set out your strategic plan, business plan, operations plan or marketing plan you are setting out a vision of the future. Yet to know where you are going; you firstly need to understand where you are at present.

We know from experience the majority of plans are not implemented fully. This is supported by a variety of research. The reason plans are not implemented is largely due to a lack of monitoring.

Yet the biggest factor of all may be executive inattention. Once a plan is decided upon, there is often surprisingly little follow-through to ensure that it is executed, the experts at Wharton and Marakon note.

People make plans, and people fail to implement those plans, yet it doesn’t need to be that way. The key is in how we set out our goals, how we identify key performance indicators and how we assess progress.

Let’s take a simple example. If our plan is to increase our reach into a community or expand our customer base, it makes sense to (a) identify where we are at present, (b) where we want to be and by when. Then at regular intervals we collect data and compare it to our plan. This tells us if we are making progress and on track. It allows us to modify plans if circumstances change.

Effective business managers use cash flow forecasting as a proactive tool to pose ‘what if’ scenarios and to identify issues before they occur. Why wouldn’t you use business planning, KPI’s and regular monitoring to check that you are on track?

Research into why we repeat the same mistakes highlight the role of incomplete, or inappropriate information, informing our decisions. While the reality is that we never have all the information we would like, and sometimes decisions need to be made with incomplete information, we can be proactive about gathering data to inform those decisions.

Projections are based upon past data. In using this data we assume nothing will change. In reality a lot will change and the only way we will understand when this occurs is through regular monitoring of progress.

Poor implementation can be attributed to how outcomes and goals are prioritised. If those charged with implementation fail to understand the prioritisation process, then they have no reason to push through with implementation. They may feel the goal conflicts with their own perceptions of what is important.

Prioritisation of goals should be based upon evidence. One thing we do for our clients is use the diagnostic tools within building blocks process to identify pain points. When evidence highlights what outcomes or goals are more important than others it becomes easier to prioritise what should be done, by who and by when.

Whether you are part of a nonprofit management team, an owner of a small to medium business, or an individual looking to #BeYouBeYourBest you let everyone down if you simply create a plan and then leave it sitting on a shelf. A possible solution is to bring someone such as myself into help collate the goals and KPI’s into a dashboard reporting tool, and then I can collect data to keep the dashboard current, provide you with feedback on trends and you can use the data to inform your strategic and business decisions. In this way you can just get on with the job.

Good data leads to good decisions. Reporting dashboards help both business and nonprofit managers. John Coxon has been guiding and advising managers for the past twenty years. His diagnostic tools enable you to prepare plan, establish KPI’s, gather data, monitor progress and make great decisions.


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