No matter where you sit in your organization, you can’t escape the push to use data to inform your next steps and strategy, nor should you. The amount of data available at your fingertips may vary, but I’d bet dollars to donuts that you have enough to help you improve decision-making, both for yourself and your organization.
“But I’m not a trained researcher, or a data scientist, or a….” I hear you begin to clamber.
Luckily, you don’t need letters after your name to be a smart consumer of data and findings. You only need patience and confidence as you thoughtfully consider the information in front of you. Remember that while you may not be a statistical wizard, you do bring your own flavor of insight and expertise to the table.
Here are a few suggestions to help you become a better consumer of the data and other information you have available.
Focus on knowing enough not to be dangerous
While many people may tell you that you need to know enough to be dangerous, I argue the opposite is true. Knowing enough to know what you don’t know is so powerful, especially when dealing with large amounts of information. Being honest with yourself about your skill and knowledge levels will help you understand who you may need work with to better understand the data and its implications.
No one expects you to be an expert at everything, and you shouldn’t expect that either. Take this as an opportunity to learn and collaborate, and you will not only better understand what you’re looking at, you might also walk away with additional knowledge to help you the next time around.
You may not be a researcher or the data analyst, so ask the team in charge of the data how it was collected and what they see as the most interesting findings. Partnering with the experts in your organization will allow you to get the answers you need, even if you can’t find them yourself. It’s your responsibility, though, to not assume that they’ll simply hand you everything you need. You need to ask insightful follow-up questions and dig deeper into the data to uncover any assumptions or contextual factors that might have influenced the reported findings.
Focus on context
Data and findings do not exist in a vacuum; they have meaning once you begin to interpret them and put what you learn into the context of the bigger picture. At your organization, you know more about the context and environment than an outside consultant or data specialist ever will. You know your organization’s stories, unspoken rules, and knowledge that get exchanged at the water cooler. Your organizational knowledge will help you look at the data from the right angle and ask the right questions to better understand the findings.
Look for trends, not snapshots
Pulse data can tell you a lot about your organization and the people in it, but it can also leave you blind to bigger trends that might trump what you learn from a single data point. When looking at employee engagement data from a single year, for example, you may find numbers to be lower than you might like. However, they may be much higher (or lower) than they were the year before, which would tell you about how your organization is trending.
This trend data gives you more robust and contextual insight into the state of your organization. Were changes implemented following last year’s low engagement numbers? Does this year’s increase suggest that these changes impacted engagement? Looking at data across time can help you more accurately tell your organization’s story.
Data analysis and interpretation may never be your day job. But you have more tools and experiences at your fingertips than you may think. You can use what you know and who you know to make sense of the data at hand. With a little confidence—and perhaps a little practice—you’ll lend unique insights to the meaning and implications of the information.
Don’t let your inexperience or discomfort around data deter you from digging in and understanding how this information can improve your work, and your organization as a whole, through informed decision-making.