The glossy brochures and quirky televisions ads we see every day aim to associate a sense of control and clarity with the business paying for them. Viewing our professional competitors and inspirations through this lens can make it seem like only we feel confusion and uncertainty about our organization’s relationship to the future.
However, in my experience working with startups, political campaigns, governments and Fortune 500 businesses, behind the public image of every organization exists chaos. As The New York Times can attest, our ever-accelerating world introduces increasing amounts of complexity and uncertainty into our lives and work by the moment.
The key to conquering the complexity and uncertainty of overwhelming amounts of data comes from establishing internal, data benchmarks and observing them over time. I have been able to convert challenges into career advantages for organizations – here’s how.
Measure Everything of Value That You Can
Like behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast and Slow describes, humans’ heuristics for decision-making tend to overly favor what we directly see. By building measurable, quantifiable markers for various elements within our businesses, we can more objectively measure change over time, independent of our own, unavoidable biases.
Of course, what we measure must relate to a meaningful element within our business and not clog up the business with superfluous, confusing data. If done correctly, however, producing measurement collection points at each step of a business process, be it marketing, engineering or HR, equips us with the tools needed to make sound decisions.
Changes in Longstanding Consistency
With existing measures in place, a whole world of clarity comes into focus. Fallible people like ourselves can now easily view organizational changes over time. Most important, we can identify changes to longstanding trends within the organization. Leadership will notice changes in revenue and profitability, but drilling down a few levels deeper to the measures that contribute to the bottom line can enable us to identify changes to the business that need to take place before they start appearing on quarterly reports.
For example, have sick days increased dramatically? Are average sales cycles doubling? Did the last three software updates take half the time? By tracking measures and looking for changes, we can establish a somewhat objective state of the business over time and then can compare relative changes to that standard.
Newer initiatives within a business don’t have a historic track record by which to compare recent changes. As such, organizational leaders can look to rates of change as a fall back. The rate at which something changes points to valuable knowledge. If the user base of a new product has grown 10 percent for four months and then suddenly grows 40 percent in the fifth month, we know that we should look at whatever our business did differently and do more of that. Rates of change can provide as much value as changes in direction.
Delineation Between Business Issues and Industry Trends
In addition to a quantified sense of both changes in longstanding and newly established components, an organization can also allow us to look to external elements of change. It’s important to find credible research as well as anecdotal information from within our network to compare and contrast perceived changes in business with those of others within the same industry. With this information, we can identify what movement pertains to our specific organization and what appears more pervasive.
Testing New Ideas Perpetually and Iteratively
Introducing elements of A-B testing into an organization allows us to continually optimize and learn about how it operates. Though this work can often feel like an endless series of putting out fires, the turn towards true calm will come from intentionally observing how small modifications to existing systems impact the measures collected.
In good times and bad, these incremental improvements will serve to increase desirable results and compensate for mistake. With this clarified view of where an organization stands in comparison to its past, industry and alternative processes, we can construct organizations that make sense in the present moment.
Want to learn more about the experts who can help you manage the complexity of data by setting benchmarks to analyze change? Help your organization convert chaos into calm. Take a look through our Industry Expert Spotlights.