You can’t be an effective executive leader if you aren’t across data. But if data-driven leadership is at the heart of your organisation, or your organisational strategy, it’s probably a good time to pause and take stock of what we really mean by data.
The fallacy of ‘what gets measured gets managed’
A lot of us fall into the trap of equating ‘data’ with dashboards and metrics that are measurable. There’s no doubt that these are invaluable for tracking performance and aiding decision-making, but they really should be just one string in your data leadership bow. I wonder just how much the ‘data measurement trap’ is shaped by a common misunderstanding about the importance of measurement within organisations. How many leaders and executives would casually share the famous quote from Drucker “what gets measured, gets managed?” The problem is that, according to the Drucker Institute, he never actually said that.
What he did say was “Unless we determine what shall be measured and what the yardstick of measurement in an area will be, the area itself will not be seen.” It’s a far more nuanced approach as a management and leadership principle, and far less problematic. Can you really reduce the sum output of the work of your people across your teams and organisation to a series of numbers and calculations on a dashboard? Not everything that matters can be measured – and not everything that can be measured is important. In terms of dashboards and measurement – if you’re not measuring data quality, how confident can you be in the dashboard’s aggregation?
There’s more data than ever before. What this means is that there is an advantage to be gained from developing data-driven leadership skills. Those leaders who become adept at identifying which data will create the most valuable insights, and can coach their teams on where to focus to increase the asset value of data, will thrive and turn data-driven decision-making into a winning habit.
Digging deeper into data
So where then should your executive team focus? Learn to ask great questions about the data, and ask these questions consistently.
My colleague Tim Goswell has a great article on this topic with a data governance slant – it shows the breadth and depth of what leaders should focus on to ensure that data is managed and governed well – and not a single mention of dashboards! I would add to this that developing your people’s data skills and organisational data capability is a big part of your own data leadership.
It can help to remember that data isn’t created in isolation, and certainly shouldn’t be collected, synthesised, and reported on in isolation. Data is created and exists because a person did something at a specific moment in time. Within your organisation, data is simply the output of the work your people perform as part of their daily work.
Your focus on this data, and the insights derived in part from conversations with your people about what this means, is a clear demonstration that you value the work your people do. It also helps remind people that attention to the quality of the data outputs of their work is key to your leadership. Your repeated efforts to include data in conversations over time will shift how your people view and work with data. Leadership, according to Drucker, isn’t about being clever, it’s about being consistent.