The Magic of Big Data: ‘TADA’

It’s not magic; throughout history, those with the greatest resources won the battles through better planning and execution. It’s the same today with Big Data. In this ever-changing world, those with data are better equipped for success.

There is no division with a more compelling reason to lead these efforts than Human Resources, with its critical role in the development of strategy, strategic workforce planning, and just as importantly, in the shaping of the culture.

While the well-equipped win the battles, often times it is the entity with the most loyal followers that wins the war! In leading this effort, one should remember: The term Big Data can be intimidating and to some often implies ‘big brother is watching.’

Avoid it whenever possible. Focus on ‘meaningful data’ that allows you to plan and manage your future. The perceptual difference can make a world of difference.

In reviewing our Succession Planning status for officer positions at FedEx a few years ago, our data indicated we had a significant number of positions at risk of being vacated and approximately the same number without a replacement identified.

This created an initial sense of urgency to develop additional employees quickly, which would have led us down an unnecessary and most likely self-destructing path.

The reality was that there was a very small number of positions that were at risk of becoming vacant and that did not have a replacement named.

The problem to be addressed was not how we develop others quickly, but rather how do we retain the current high potentials with limited career opportunities.

So how do we use data? If all companies had access to the same data, some would fail while others would thrive. Why is that? How an organization manages each of the four key factors associated with data makes the critical difference:

  • Business value: One must determine what data is meaningful to the management of the business. This implies that a clear, thought out vision and mission already exists. But it also suggests that the data captured must be considered in context, not focusing on a small aspect of the business.

    This, in turn, suggests that data must be captured for all sources, internal as well as external—employees can’t be expected to understand how they will achieve their goals unless they can incorporate economic, political, competitive and technological trends.
  • Quality: What an organization measures matters. Collecting the right data in real time allows you to monitor and react to the changing business environment. The quality of the data is important to be sure you are not misled. Data must be verified whenever possible through statistical review.

    Besides quality, however, quantity must be considered. Too much data can be misleading and could cause ‘paralysis analysis,’ the failure to make a decision because there is too much to consider.
  • Analyses: Data is just data; having it is not enough. You need to translate it into information. For example the word ‘TADA’ in the title contains the same letters as the word ‘data.’ It is knowing what the ‘data’ means in context to the whole that is important.

    Consequently, it is analyses of this data, the correlation between all data sets available, which provides the insight needed to lead a business. To achieve this, your analyses must not be looking back, but rather extrapolating the data forward, taking a proactive look at what will most likely happen.

    One must recognize that no one outcome or direction is guaranteed, so determining the most likely ‘future’ is necessary for the next step; this most likely scenario requires knowledgeable, insightful leadership who understand the company’s business in depth.
  • Action: The fourth and last step in the process is to develop and execute on what you have gleaned from the data available. A detailed strategy must be developed as well as precise tactics to achieve those goals.

    A project/program management process must be implemented to ensure accountability during implementation. Included in this should be a ‘withdrawal plan’ that recognizes the limited certainty of the direction chosen and identifies fast and effective changes to tactics when necessary.

Bob Bennett is the founder of Achieve-LLC, a management consultant firm, and the former chief learning officer of FedEx.