I talked to consultant Jen Jarvis about a comment she made in passing once that intrigued me. Referring to her previous role as the executive director of a local healthcare non-profit, she said, “I credit a high percentage of the success we had to my drive to transform the organization to a data-driven culture. Empowering staff with meaningful metrics created certainty and confidence that they were all moving in the same direction.” I wanted to know more about a data driven culture and organization and how to create one. Here is what she told me.
The Value of Managing with Data
An organization with a data driven culture is one in which management decisions are based on data not emotion, and one in which staff know they are all driving in the same direction. There is alignment. When managing employees by using data, you are giving them the ability and tools to show them how they are doing. It makes management easier, because performance is indicated by the data, and staff can see the impact of their work.
As a manager, you might feel that someone is working hard, but having actual data backs that feeling up. Data doesn’t negate telling your staff they are doing a good job. You should still affirm your people, but use the data to show them the results of their efforts. Having data also takes away the “my manager doesn’t like me” problem. You have data to show what was completed.
Making decisions becomes easier. Data brings a level of confidence to employees and staff. They know that you are not just shooting from the hip, but that you have data to support the decisions you are making as manager. Data is an amazing communication tool. When you do it right, you can use data to explain things. Data brings credibility to the company both with staff and with stakeholders.
The Transformation to a Data Driven Organization
How do you transform the culture to become data driven? You do it in steps. Transforming to a data driven culture can be overwhelming. Your approach really depends on who you are implementing the data with. The front line isn’t accustomed to being privy to a lot of data, so it is best to transition to managing with data in chunks. Implementing one measure at a time allows the front line to see how their work is having an impact on that one measure.
It is different with leaders further up in the organization. When leaders are coming to you as the CEO to make a decision, ask for the data to support the decision. It creates accountability. When you get solid data, then you make the decision. Work together to determine what that data is needed and what it should look like, and then set about getting it.
Once you have established a data driven culture, focus on consistency. You need to create an operating cadence around your data. If staff knows you are examining the data once a month or once every couple weeks, make sure you follow that.
Which Metrics are Best?
The metrics I used previously were based on who I was working with. You need to know what is meaningful to the employee to measure. For example, we didn’t really do a lot with financial data for front line staff. In healthcare, we look at relative value units, and productivity is measured in terms of encounters per day. The reason people are in healthcare is to take care of people. So financial measures and revenue metrics don’t often resonate with them. Instead, we set up metrics to track how many people they were able to care for and support. That is what was meaningful to staff. Those metrics did tie back to revenue further up the chain, but it wasn’t meaningful for me to tell the front line what net revenue was. Instead I shared with them the data that showed what was meaningful to them and how they impacted that data. That gave them purpose.
Having said that, you need to make sure the measures you pick still do tie to bottom line of organization and your goals. For example, we could have had a metric on wasted supplies. There is a certain amount of waste inherent in healthcare, and reducing that waste is certainly important, but at end of day, that wasn’t going to help the front line get to where they needed to get to support the overall organizational goal, whereas improving the number of encounters was. There are many choices of what to measure, so you must make sure you are tying back to what is important to the organization.
Finally, you need to address leading vs lagging indicators. We are accustomed as a business to looking at lagging indicators. We need to look at indicators that help us be proactive vs reactive. Most often these are the leading indicators. Even in organizations that actively use data, it can be a culture shift to seek out and create leading indicators alongside the lagging.
Empowering Staff with Metrics
You empower staff when you show them they are making a difference in what is important to them and in what the organization is striving to create or achieve. You know that you are starting to empower them when they come to you for help with problem solving, to determine how to change something because their last data points were not what they had hoped. They can see what they did that worked and what didn’t work, and they feel empowered to make changes.
We also used benchmarks of other organizations to compare to our own numbers. The staff saw themselves rising in comparable metrics with other comparable, strong organizations. When they started seeing themselves benchmarked with others and what they were achieving – that was very empowering. If you can use state or industry or national averages, it helps you to empower staff. When they are starting to see results from what they are doing, to actually see a number, it proves that they are getting better rather than just feeling like it.
You want to track metrics that empower and show how front line staff all the way through to leadership is contributing to the vision. It is important to find the key KPIs to show how everyone moves the vision forward. This creates buy in to both the vision and to becoming more data driven
Who Drives the Data Culture
Any leader can drive a data culture, though it helps to have support from the CEO. When you begin talking about data, the staff are not accustomed to it, and they need support. The CEO is missing the boat if he or she isn’t supporting becoming a data culture.
To use data as a manager, look at the products that your department or division produces and look how it ties in with the vision of the organization. You can start creating data points for your staff. Your successes and the clarity you get from data to make decisions and empower your staff will be a catalyst for others in the organization to use more data. Encourage people to think about their departments as companies within companies. Find indicators and work with people to improve indicators.
There were many other organizations in our network whose managers didn’t utilize data to the best of their ability. But the top 10 all had managers working to use data effectively. Using data is about being a top performer.
Interested in becoming a data driven organization? Contact us for a no-cost conversation on how you and your organization can get started.