Many business leaders use two general approaches when faced with making a decision.
The first is the proverbial “gut feel,” that sixth sense or inner voice that provides deep insights while you stare out over the void of indecision. Not quite a mysterious energy field that binds the galaxy together, but their annual convention is not far away. This approach may also be called “bold” and “decisive” — implying decisions are made quickly with little input from other sources.
The opposite approach includes a combination of methods that eventually lead to someone uttering the phrase “analysis paralysis” in an attempt to bring comic relief to the situation. This could involve requesting feedback from several acquaintances, with limited attention given to expertise in a specific area. Social functions with open bars are great places to gather this kind of advice. Ultimately, after consulting with others, searching the Internet, reading a few book excerpts and crunching a few spreadsheets, a decision is made. And then the second-guessing begins. Or not.
Hopefully, these illustrations don’t describe anyone you know precisely, but you’ve probably seen tendencies of each along your career. In reality, both types are largely guessing, while taking different paths to get there. One path is shorter but can lead to lost time when dealing with impacts from gut-feel decisions. The other requires more time, while only moderately improving the outcome.
So how do you get the information you need to make a good decision without spending time you don’t have to avoid the guesswork of a gut feel?
The good news is that decisions involving your business can benefit from the data you’ve already collected about it. The downside is most businesses don’t have this information organized in a way that allows them to ask their favorite smart speaker what to do about it.
If you’re asking if there’s a better way, consider these steps:
Know What You Have — In most cases, you have surprisingly more data than you think. Every inventory, tracking or purchasing system you use contains data about your business functions and how your customers engage. The various spreadsheets your business uses to track tasks, inventory and services contain vital information, yet you likely don’t know half of them exist because they’re setup on individual laptops, phones and cloud accounts. This is all information that can provide timely insights into critical questions.
Get Organized — Once you know the data you have, it needs to be organized in a way that makes it easy to find and use. Past and current high school students have begun many desperate searches for something they knew they have but were only certain it was in the same room as themselves. In the same way, if you can’t reliably get to your data when you need it, you effectively don’t have it. Organizing your data is an important step to making use of it, even if there are several piles of it. Bringing it all together within an organized structure allows you to spend less time chasing it … and make Mom happy.
Make It Useful — Traditionally, the process of gathering data to inform a decision started with “making a report.” This often involved one person visiting several software programs or spreadsheets to copy and paste information into yet another spreadsheet to present to a group where the accuracy and completeness of the report was then debated.
Much time can be saved by using a reporting platform to allow for rapid answers to business questions such as “When should we run this promotion to get the most traffic to our stores,” “How many hours a day should we be open,” and “What is the best way to generate leads?”
These steps may sound like something only a Fortune 500 company could afford to put together, but each solution described here is readily available and viable for small- and middle-sized businesses. The question is whether you are ready to take the guesswork out of decision making.
If that describes you, start a conversation with us to see how data-driven decisions can start giving you time back in your day.
Paul Bredemeier is vice president of consulting services at Fluent Consultants.