Is data-driven management the answer? Yes, and no.

By Jennifer Olsen

A lot has been written about Google’s People Analytics Department. The department’s purpose: to help the company make HR decisions using data, including the difference a manager makes in their teams’ performance.

The data Google collected showed that indeed managers have a positive impact. The better the manager, the better the team performs, the happier they are, and the more likely they are to continue working at Google. Data like this is powerful; however, collecting the data is just the beginning. What you do with that data is where the power exists.

Data is more than collection

Many of the business leaders with whom I talk are considering various employee engagement survey tools. They know the value of asking for employee feedback and collecting data, but before they act, I encourage them to pause and ask themselves:

  • Why am I collecting data?
  • What data do I need?
  • What am I going to do with the data?
  • How often am I going to collect data?
  • How quickly will I be able to act on the data?
  • What will my employees gain in return for providing the data?
  • Note: Employees expect that you are going to do something with the data they can see if you are asking them to take the time to give you feedback.

Technology, including HR technology, offers today’s business leaders powerful tools and the access to big data. But for data to be most effective, you need to have a plan for use before collection and the right people in the right place to act on the data.

Successful organizations are driven by more than data

RHR-=driven-dataAlong with the desire for data-driven decisions, there’s also a growing awareness that when it comes to effective business and leadership, it’s about more than “just” the data. The data which Google collected illustrates that point—the more skilled someone is at managing people, the better the results. That’s why so many people are talking not just about data, but also about the power of mindfulness in leadership development.

“Mindful leaders are the best-equipped to transform the people who follow them because they pay careful attention to how people feel, think and act,” writes Clifford Jones in the Puget Sound Business Journal. “This often leads to a transformational change in the organization, which often leads to breakthrough results.”

Mindful leaders backed by data can drive organizations forward

We can’t just decide to become mindful. It takes practice. Jones offers twenty great suggestions for how to be a mindful leader—here are the first five.

A mindful leader…

  • Is a person who listens well to people.
  • Is compassionate.
  • Asks great questions, often.
  • Reads people well.
  • Is intuitive and can hear what is not said, also.

Just as data can provide insight about what employees think, or where an organization is headed, mindfulness can help leaders identify what’s most important in that data and how to act on it. Mindful leaders are more likely to observe what limits their growth, as well as the growth of their organization, and their people.
Unlike the automation of data, being a mindful leader isn’t automatic. But from what I’ve seen, leaders who use the data available and approach their role with a high level of emotional intelligence and personal awareness, are more likely to make decisions that bring the desired outcomes. When organizations create strategies backed by data and implemented by mindful leaders, it’s amazing to watch the results.

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"My professional passion stems from a fascination with how the individual needs of employees, managers, and the business converge to produce an outcome. I’m driven by a desire to help leaders and employees find the balance between competing needs so they can work together to address the challenges they face."