Big data is critical to business success because it provides leadership with important insights and information. Large enterprises use sophisticated systems to track data and often have internal analysts on their team to crunch their numbers. Or, they hire outside experts to do it for them. Yet any enterprise can take advantage of big data, no matter their size, especially if you re-frame your definition of “big.” You can use your data to better understand your customer needs and buying patterns to further develop strategies that could impact sales. Insights like those developed with data become amazingly useful to any size enterprise!
Slay Your Fears!
You’ve heard some people say, “I’m really not a numbers person.” Perhaps they use this as their excuse for avoiding using data, much less big data, because they might feel reluctant to dive in and give it a try. You do not need an MBA or finance degree to begin working with the data associated with your business, regardless of its size. Anyone can learn and understand at least a couple of the key metrics that impact how they operate and what drives financial success.
If you are reluctant to launch into data analytics, being with some baby steps. Start by identifying two or three key metrics you want to better understand about your business or your customers. Once you have these key metrics identified, then focus on getting the data you need to help better understand what drives these metrics and how you can use the data to increase your enterprise performance. Then those metrics become the fundamentals that shape your thinking about your business strategies and what you need to do to better achieve your business goals.
Focus on how the data you have or can gather links to your business strategies. The key is to search for the critical data metrics that influence decision making. Look for the information that provides you with insight on the variables that impact your revenue and profitability.
Use the Information and Tools You Already Have
You do not need a complicated computer system or major data management firm to figure out what you are already using in your business for data capture. Frankly, many organizations are not fully utilizing the existing software they already have to gather basic information.
Frequently, software programs have the capability to export information into analytical programs such as Excel. Once the data is put into an analytic format, you can do all sorts of data evaluation based on key variables such as customer demographics, profitability, geographic location, purchasing patterns, buying volume, etc. Reviewing data points for various time horizons provides a comparison to see how much is changing during different time periods. Engaging in analytical assessments of your data often provides valuable information on shifts in your target market and identifies new sales opportunities. You might even uncover areas of business vulnerability before they cause major challenges.
Many companies do not fully access the information they have already obtained about their customers. Taking time to input detailed information into a Contact Relationship Management (CRM) system can be a first step. Consolidate the insight from your other information systems to develop a comprehensive customer profile. Then drill down into the information on your customers and tie them to financial measurements such as sales volume, degree of profitability or key target marketing variables.
It is not uncommon for smaller enterprises to have their most valuable customer information written down on sheets of paper or in someone’s head. If you enter your data into a CRM or Excel, you establish the foundation for a more robust data assessment. Then you can begin to pull insights by looking carefully at key variables. You will have a more effective way of targeting your desired consumers as you drill down deeper into the data to see which customers are most valuable to your business. You will be able to make better decisions if you are using thoughtfully mined data. You will also minimize the vulnerability to not having good information to work with if a key employee becomes ill or leaves.
Create Metrics and Dashboards
When you begin working with data, it is essential to create metrics and dashboard reports focusing on the key information so it can be tracked on an on-going basis. Then set up the mechanisms and policies that ensure it is tracked by your employees. Holding your team accountable for reliably gathering the data and tracking it in a timely manner are also important steps to effectively use data.
You can certainly do some of this work yourself, but it might be even better for you to loop in your key employees who are better skilled than you at putting it together. Then you can review the information and draw conclusions.
Another option is to work with an outside consultant who does this all the time and is not going to struggle with a learning curve. Outside experts can help you discover details you might have overlooked while managing the enterprise day-to-day. You are likely to gain better insights – and move much faster – by bringing in outside expertise for a short duration engagement rather than trying to struggle through setting it up by yourself. It is not a cliché that “time is money.” Invest in learning from an expert and then take it over once you develop the foundational skills and have gained some confidence in your own abilities.
Learning to leverage data is essential to impacting the growth and success of any business. As you become more comfortable using your initial metrics, you can add on additional key metrics. Using a disciplined approach and continue to look for more metrics to measure. Have fun with it! You will soon have a robust data management system that you and your team can use to more effectively manage your business and your customer relationships. This will provide you with new pathways for business growth and enhanced success.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jill J. Johnson, MBA, is the President and Founder of Johnson Consulting Services, a highly accomplished speaker, an award-winning management consultant, and author of the bestselling book Compounding Your Confidence. Jill helps her clients make critical business decisions and develop market-based strategic plans for turnarounds or growth. Her consulting work has impacted more than $4 billion worth of decisions. She has a proven track record of dealing with complex business issues and getting results. For more information on Jill J. Johnson, please visit www.jcs-usa.com.
“I wish I could rewind the clock and do it differently.” Bob, CEO of a mid-size organization lamented to his former colleague, Rick. A week earlier he had sent out an internal memo warning that things were about to change. Their entire industry would soon be affected due to emerging government regulations.
The day after the memo was sent, worst case scenarios were circulating throughout the company. The gossip mill was in full swing. Fear quickly spread to vendors and customers. Within 48 hours, Bob had hundreds of emails from concerned workers, vendors and customers.
“What could you have done differently? You shared the information you had at the time.” Rick earnestly attempted to support his friend.
“Rick, I didn’t have much information from the Feds. I should have been upfront with people that I was also in the dark.” The CEO confided.
“I know but you couldn’t have anticipated that people would react so badly.” Rick responded in a compassionate tone.
“I underestimated the importance of doing more than sharing facts. My memo wasn’t very warm and friendly.” Bob admitted.
For the past two decades, Bob had focused on building a loyal team around him. He had worked hard to build their trust and was confident he had achieved it. Now, with one poorly written document, he was surprised to see how quickly that trust could erode.
Here’s what also surprised Bob: how differently employees read written communication during times of stress and change.
Bob made some blunders. You don’t have to repeat his mistakes. As a leader, you can build trust during turbulent times by following these four writing tips:
Tip #1: Choose Every Word Carefully. This is critical. During times turbulent times, every word you write to your employees about the crisis will be scrutinized.
Bob’s Blunder: He used ‘unfortunate’ in his memo. Employees obsessed about the use of this word, convinced it reflected some dire meaning.
Do This: Before you press send, ask yourself, could my reader derive some unintended meaning from my wording? If you are not sure, get a second opinion! (or third or fourth!)
Tip #2: Make a Human Connection. It has been said that people will forget what you said, but they will never forget how you make them feel. This also applies to written communication. During turbulent times, employees look to leaders for reassurance and empathy. Conveying a human connection through writing fosters trust in leadership.
Bob’s Blunder: Bob’s memo came across as uncaring to employees since it lacked any expression of emotion.
Do This: Before you press send, ask yourself, what expression of genuine emotion could I share with my readers to let them know I care?
Tip #3: Be Transparent. When you don’t have the full information to share, be willing to honesty explain your constraints. If you do not show transparency, you risk breaching the reader’s trust. In your writing, what you leave unsaid can be as important as what you say.
Bob’s Blunder: Bob’s memo left many questions unanswered. Bob failed to share with his readers that he was limited by the lack of information he was receiving from his source, the federal government.
Do This: Before you press send, ask yourself, have I articulated why I can’t provide more detail?
Tip #4: More is Better. During a crisis, people can get overwhelmed. This reduces their ability to retain information. Your message may get lost. To ensure your communication is received, aim to increase the frequency of writing to employees about important issues. Repetition is key. Find ways to communicate important messages in different ways on a frequent basis during turbulent times.
Bob’s Blunder: Bob waited a few weeks between his first and second written communication about the changes and this caused concern among employees.
Do This: Before you press send, ask yourself, have I communicated how I will continue to keep people updated?
It has been said that the only constant in life is change. This may be truer than ever. How you communicate in writing during turbulent times can leave a lasting impression on those within your organization and beyond. Your people are watching not just what you do, but how you do it. By following these four tips, you can leave a lasting legacy within your organization – one that you will not look back and regret like Bob did.
About the Author
Dr. Julie Miller is President of Business Writing that Counts! Over the past 30 years, more than 750,000 people have participated in Business Writing That Counts! on-site and online writing courses and walked away with dramatically improved writing skills. Dr. Julie and her team are focused on increasing our clients’ bottom line by improving the efficiency and effectiveness of employees’ writing. Contact her at www.businesswritingthatcounts.com
Working from home by choice or by mandate presents a unique set of opportunities and challenges. If you’re new to telecommuting, you might find that without some discipline, you’re waking up well beyond normal work hours and adopting behaviors you would never exhibit on your worst day at the office.
In the beginning you might welcome a day or two late mornings and wearing pajamas past noon. However, sloth mimicry is a habit few professionals would enthusiastically adopt long term. To get the most out of telecommuting, you need to master some best practices.
Create and Maintain a Routine
Recognize the fact that telework requires self-discipline. A day of waking up at 5:00 am followed by one where you rise at 9:00 and another at 10:00 is a pattern on the path to disaster. Adopt some desk hours and stick with them. Also, be sure to take some regular breaks. You need to eat, you need to stand, and you need to stretch. You also need to turn off work when it’s time to go home. Unless you’re in a field that demands it, checking email at midnight is not a good idea. You need to establish psychological boundaries to keep work hours work hours and home hours home hours.
Learn New Technology and Leverage Old
When working from a distance, you should learn how to use popular web-conferencing software, get comfortable on camera, and get ready to meet regularly online. The world is moving to the virtual conference room, and you need to know how to operate in that space. “I don’t like being on camera,” “I’m not a tech person,” and “I’ll just call in,” are excuses that will leave you behind. Nobody looks their best on a webcam; that’s a fact. It’s also a fact that facial expressions, body language, and other visual cues are a big part of communication. If they’re missing, you’re missing out.
In addition to mastering video conferencing, if you’re working with a single screen, consider investing in one or two more. The extra room is a game changer, especially if you don’t have access to a high-speed printer and find yourself having to read a lot of documents on screen that you would have normally printed at the office.
Working alone saves hours, but the lack of chit chat created during casual interactions can also cause your relationships with your coworkers to suffer. To remedy the problem, you need to be deliberate in your communication and schedule time to catch up.
Set aside some minute during your workday to check in with coworkers. Not working on a project that requires meetings? Consider setting up a virtual lunch date instead. Most people who wake up one day feeling isolated and in a funk don’t have a contact plan in place. Prepare for regular social interactions before you start missing them.
Seek Out Opportunity
If you’re working from home and find yourself with extra hours on your hands, it’s time take initiative and learn some new skills. Anything you can do to expand your knowledge, work practices, or professional network could help you later.
- Consider developing an education plan for yourself. For example, instead of faking your way through PowerPoint, learn how to use the slide master, templates, and other features so that tool works for you the way in which its creators intended.
- Look for ways to make your work more efficient. Is it time to organize your email system? Could you benefit from creating rules, using folders, and getting your electronic communication under control once and for all? It can be done, it takes time, and if you have any minutes to spare that you otherwise would have spent commuting, seize the day.
- Get online and expand your business network. Brush up your LinkedIn profile, and start making connections. Look for people with whom you grew up, attended school, or shared an employer at some point during your career. You never know how your efforts to connect could benefit you and others in the future.
Working from home means you have to become more self-reliant. For example, an ounce of prevention can make all the difference when you encounter a tech upset.
Start with the basics. Think about your files and the tools you need to complete your work. For example, do you have a cloud backup? Do you have remote access software so someone in IT can help you if you hit a roadblock?
In addition to technology surprises, consider your short- and long-term goals. If your employer decided to eliminate telework, or your position for that matter, what would you do? Do you have a plan? It’s a lot easier to enact something you created when you weren’t stressed than to craft and start working on a solution when you are.
Create a disaster plan for one, and you’ll be ahead of most people when challenges arise.
Following routines, leveraging tech, being deliberate with communication, setting aside time for growth, and preparing for uncertainty are five ways you can get the most out of a work-at-home experience.
About the Author:
Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. For more information, visit www.businesstrainingworks.com.