Without data you are just another person with an opinion

I’ve been told that I have poor long-term memory when it comes to recalling key events in my life, whether it be trying to remember my wedding day or first job interview however I vividly recall my first day at university. As most first year students do, I spent an immense amount of time trying to perfect my class schedule ensuring that I could wake up late and end the day sooner, but there was one class with no alternatives… Statistics 101 on a Friday morning at 7:30am.

It was the first official day of university, I ended up on the wrong side of campus, lost, and ultimately late for my first class. I remember walking into this large auditorium and saw the following quote written across the board: “Without data you are just another person with an opinion.” – W Edwards Deming.” I loved it, it deeply resonated within me. As a child, my parents had always encouraged us to argue with facts and not allow our emotions to take hold of the conversation.

Having then spent the following couple of years taking the subject as one of my majors, I often found myself questioning whether I would ever use the key principles and frameworks being taught, concluding that this was reserved for the select few that ultimately would enter the workplace as Statisticians, Mathematicians or continue on in their academic field. Little did I know my very first job would be as a Data Analyst, deeply analysing compensation and benefits data across Africa.

Data and analytics have become a large part of my corporate identity and a passion of mine. I thoroughly enjoy helping clients better understand their business by looking at their data through multiple lenses. I am a strong proponent of “Do it yourself” and always encourage clients to get started on the journey of Analytics. The most common questions or statements that we often hear are, “How do we get started”, “We don’t have tools or software”, and my personal favourite, “My data isn’t 100% clean.”

The reality is that you don’t need advanced analytical software to get started, excel is found on almost every corporate laptop and is a hugely powerful but underutilised tool. Furthermore, I personally don’t subscribe to the idea that it is possible to have a 100% clean set of data, particularly in an environment of multiple sources of data that are constantly changing. The objective should be, instead of being 100% incorrect, to rather be directionally correct with a focus on refinement and continuous improvement.

So how do we get started? There are a lot of resources out there that provide guidance on getting started. RJ Milnor, Global Head of People Analytics at Uber has a great 4 step approach to getting started:

  1. Get the lay of the land – Dedicate time to learning about the business’s needs, identify key stakeholders, and build relationships with them. Try to understand what is going well and what isn’t, then focus on figuring out why.
  1. Identify potential quick wins, and do the math on cost, benefit, impact, and feasibility – What are the major business problems? Consider what part people play in the solution. That’s where people analytics efforts will be most effective.
  1. Don’t neglect infrastructure – Are our data privacy and security policies accurate and compliant? Do we have the appropriate level of governance in place? Map these out early and build out over time, rather than potentially having to pause everything to overhaul the whole system when it becomes a problem.
  1. Don’t worry about data not being 100% clean – We should do our best to make sure data is as accurate as possible, but sometimes there will still be mistake. Your data might not be perfectly clean, but it shouldn’t stop you from using it.

Simple yet key, data analytics doesn’t need to be solved for in one day, but rather requires a disciplined step by step effort of continuous improvement.

Don’t be frightened, start somewhere. For many of us starting off, we may not have the luxury of being part of a dedicated analytic function but instead may find ourselves as a one-person team, don’t let this hold you back.

Here are some tips to consider:

  • Pace yourself – The pace of change will be determined by your unique organisational culture, resources, and leaders, but making a continuous effort is more important than going full speed ahead.
  • Segment your stakeholders – No single medium or message will be equally effective with a diverse group of stakeholders. Tailor what you say and how you say it.
  • Stop trying to motivate users – People often have sufficient self-motivation to engage more deeply with analytics but might lack the time, resources, or ability to do so. Focus instead on making it easy, like making training more flexible or less time-consuming.
  • Generate your own data – Make sure you’re leveraging analytics in your own efforts, like tracking click-through and open rates on communications emails. Use them to inform and adjust your approach.

“Data and People are two of the most important assets a business has. Fact based decision making and fact-based people planning has become a source of great competitive advantage!” Tim Loughton (Stonefield Advisory)

Nicolas Constantinides, Managing Partner | Africa People Advisory Group