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“Analytics”, “data mining”, “big data”, “key metrics” – one way or another, data is regularly lauded as the solution to every problem that a business faces.
However, as I wrote in my last blog post, not everything is always as it appears in the world of data. Sometimes it pays to take a step back and consider if your key performance metrics are actually a help or hindrance.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when analysing your data.
Management Information vs. Data Analysis
First of all, it’s important that you separate management information (or MI) and data analysis.
MI is a record of fixed data sets, allowing managers to see and track changes over time (for example, a weekly stats report). Whereas data analysis is about digging deeper into the figures, looking for patterns and anomalies to predict future change. Essentially, MI says, “This is where we are,” and data analysis says, “This is where we could be.”
Think of MI as looking directly through the windshield of your car at what’s in front of you, and data analysis as looking at various possible routes on your satnav app.
There is an important place for them both. However, automating MI will free up your analysts to start modeling ways your company can innovate for the future. (There are many automation services you can use, including Power BI, Oracle and Tableau.)
The Danger of Stand-Alone Metrics
Are there certain stats and figures in your company that are consistently highlighted, either for marketing purposes or as benchmarks?
If so, it’s worth regularly putting them under the microscope. You need to make sure they are accurate and are sending your company in the right direction.
Take the following example: “In five years time, we will have 500,000 customers.” Chasing this metric at the cost of all others could have potentially damaging consequences.
Have you considered other relevant metrics? What is the average transaction value? What are your retention rates? Customer satisfaction levels? And that’s not even mentioning wider considerations like the company’s contribution to society and the environment.
Again, an automated MI program can help here: they can provide an engaging and easy to understand data dashboard for all employees to use. Be sure to include a range of relevant data points that your colleagues can refer to. This can stop your company from focusing on just the traditional metrics.
Embrace the Inconsistent
There can be a certain comfort in the weekly stats report. Like clockwork, everyone gets the same report confirming that all is well with “that” sacred number (for example, total sales, page views, etc.) and things are progressing as predicted.
But should this be the case in a business that dares to innovate and search for new ways to gain a competitive advantage?
There’s always the temptation to say “we’ve had a great week” and leave it there. But being shackled to particular metrics, with the assumption that they’ll grow in a predictable fashion, is potentially dangerous.
However, if you take the time to really analyze the data, you may find a few surprises. It may show that there’s a new audience of customers you can market to, or that a bottleneck is hampering capacity. When you take time to dig deeper, you may find whole new areas of opportunity. “We’ve had a great week” could quite easily turn into “we’ve had a great month.”
Whenever you make new discoveries about your industry, my recommendation is to document and share this information around the team. This may form part of a toolkit of ways to boost performance at times when you really need it.
Traditional Metrics: a Ticking Time Bomb?
Without innovation, the continued growth of the sacred metric may not be guaranteed.
In fact, if you’re solely focused on sales metrics, for example, this may have a detrimental effect on your business and lower your return on investment.
As a business makes more sales, it might start to find that its current processes and “infrastructure” struggle to handle the demands of a growing customer base. Therefore, technically the cost of securing each sale grows as your company creaks under the pressure. This is commonly known as the “law of diminishing returns” – the economics equivalent of “too many cooks spoil the broth.”
The graph below shows how this might negatively affect a restaurant business.
If the restaurant keeps hiring more staff to serve more tables, over time this tactic can become increasingly inefficient. They may need a bigger restaurant space, or a bigger kitchen, or more serving stations.
Traditional metrics, like total sales figures (or tables served, as in the example above) can let the company down, hiding the real challenges that the business faces.
By taking a step back and assessing the bigger picture, you can focus on finding innovative solutions to the happy problems of increased demand.
Knowledge Is Power
Taking a step back myself, the key takeaways from this blog are the following:
- Don’t work for your metrics, make your metrics work for you.
- Make sure that the metrics ingrained in your company culture are suitable, sensible and wide-ranging.
- Innovation is essential. So never be afraid to change those metrics: if you’ve made new discoveries in your data, they could take your company in a successful new direction!
- In fact, sticking dogmatically to a narrow range of metrics could be dangerous for your company in the long run, as you miss opportunities and succumb to the law of diminishing returns.
With comprehensive MI and rigorous analysis of data, your team may well discover exciting new horizons for your company to explore.
James’ Recommended Resources
Mind Tools is a U.K.-based company, that serves more than 25 million learners, offering on-demand management, leadership and career skills training to individuals and organizations. With Mind Tools’ customized corporate learning solutions, your organization will have access to all our premium resources, including expert interview and book insight podcasts, interactive quizzes, and learning streams.
Book a demo with a member of our team to find out more.
Mind Tools at CIPD Festival of Work
We’ve packed away our stand, headed back to Mind Tools HQ, and now it’s time to reflect on a busy, informative and exciting two days at the 2019 CIPD Festival of Work!
The CIPD is the professional body for HR and people development, and is dedicated to “championing better work and working lives.” Its Festival of Work conference and exhibition at Olympia London was billed as the world’s largest celebration of people at work.
The event attracted more than 10,000 visitors, 160 speakers and 250 exhibitors – including a handpicked team from Mind Tools! We were delighted to demonstrate our Corporate offering to L&D leaders from the U.K. and around the globe.
We were also pleased to showcase our latest white paper, “Challenging Perceptions: Optimizing Performance by Aligning With the Needs of the Consumer Learner.” The report was a joint venture with our Emerald Learning partners, Towards Maturity – watch this space for a downloadable version that will be available soon!
The white paper takes a deep dive into learner behavior, and explores how today’s learners feel about learning at work.
One of the key findings is the massive divide between the perceptions of L&D practitioners and those of their learners. Drawing on lessons from top-performing organizations, the paper identifies the key learning expectations L&D practitioners need to meet, and the changes that will likely have the biggest impact on bridging the divide that may exist in your organization.
Festival of Work: An Immersive Event
The Festival of Work had lots to offer the delegates, exhibitors and visitors. For example, in the Innovation Village, a number of organizations demonstrated the latest innovations in L&D. And in the Well-Being Village, visitors could take part in mindfulness tasters, yoga sessions, and even spend time chilling with canine companions in the Nestle Purina dogs area.
The Future Role of Technology
Embracing technology in the workplace (without forgetting the human element) was one of the most popular themes of the event.
The opening keynote address was given by Garry Kasparov, a chess grandmaster and former world champion, and current chairman of the Human Rights Foundation.
He spoke about how the future of work is human and machine working together. This was followed by a panel with Garry and other prominent experts, to discuss good work and the future of jobs in a changing economic landscape.
Festival of Work Free Learning Program
In addition to the 75+ sessions on the main stages, CIPD also ran free learning events throughout the Festival of Work.
On the L&D Stage, our colleagues at GoodPractice delivered a presentation around the evolution of 70:20:10, a learning and development model that suggests a proportional breakdown of how people learn effectively.
In the session, they discussed insights, gathered from L&D practitioners working in leading organizations, about how they use 70:20:10 within their businesses.
For the uninitiated, 70:20:10 describes an ideal balance between different ways of learning and developing in the workplace:
- 70 percent by “experience,” through day-to-day tasks, challenges and practice.
- 20 percent by “exposure,” through social learning, in person or online.
- 10 percent by “education,” through formal learning including courses.
GoodPractice managing director Owen Ferguson explored the model with some important health warnings about the research methodology of 70:20:10.
He pointed out that L&D has a difficult job to do in terms of positioning and communicating 70:20:10, as there is a risk that people view it as “something extra,” or that L&D is pushing its responsibility out to managers and employees in the guise of 70:20:10.
As well as speaking and exhibiting at the event, GoodPractice also celebrated the third birthday of its podcast by doing a live show from London.
This special podcast featured Michelle Parry-Slater, founder of Kairos Modern Learning; Gemma Critchley, Head of Technology & Innovation for Learning at Aviva; and Andy Lancaster, head of Learning & Development Content at the CIPD. They discussed the past, present and future of learning. Listen to the live podcast on the GoodPractice website, here.
See You at the 2020 Festival of Work!
We’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who visited the Mind Tools stand at the CIPD Festival of Work this year. We hope to see you again in 2020!
If you missed us at the event, but you’d like to find out more about our offering, request a demo today and discover how Mind Tools can help you and your organization.
Do you push too hard for perfection? Perhaps you struggle to get started on tasks, waiting for inspiration to arrive. Or maybe the projects you lead tend to miss their deadlines, while you and your people dissect and debate the details at length.
If so, chances are you’re making perfection your priority – at the expense of progress.
Long ago, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill warned against that very clearly: “Perfection is the enemy of progress.”
Today, Seth Godin, a successful entrepreneur, author and teacher, preaches that “waiting for perfect is never as smart as making progress.” The writer and leadership guru, Simon Sinek, agrees: “Progress is more important than perfection,” he says.
The Rise of Perfectionism
It’s easy to get caught up in the cult of perfectionism. A 2017 study by social psychologist Dr Thomas Curran analyzed data from over 40,000 people at colleges in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. It concluded that the drive for perfectionism is increasing.
Another study, by clinical psychologists at Dalhousie University, involved around 25,000 people, aged between 15 and 49. It showed that perfectionism has increased significantly in the last 30 years.
The Problem With Pursuing “Perfect”
In psychology, a perfectionist is defined as someone who maintains excessively high performance standards. They refuse to accept anything less than flawlessness.
But it’s an approach that’s unrealistic and unattainable. It’s a fast track to failure and unhappiness. To make matters even worse, perfectionists are often highly self-critical, and excessively concerned with the opinions of others.
Perfectionism can also lead to procrastination. You put things off because you’re waiting for the perfect idea, or for the timing to be spot-on. But while you’re busy deciding how to achieve your goals, deadlines sail by!
Many perfectionists focus on avoiding failure at all costs. They view mistakes as failures, and that leads to a fear of taking any risks at all. In the most popular TED Talk of all time, creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson says, “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” Perfectionism breeds fear of being wrong, and fear kills creativity.
Pushed to its extreme, perfectionism can ultimately affect a person’s sense of self-worth. If nothing we do is good enough, we can easily start thinking that we’re not good enough, too.
What to Do If You’re a Perfectionist
It’s always important to have high standards. But if your pursuit of perfect is getting in the way of progress, here are seven tips that might help:
1. Be clear about your objective.
From the very start, make sure you know what you’re aiming to achieve.
Let’s say you’re preparing a presentation to the C-suite. Do you find yourself spending an inordinate amount of time fussing over the fonts for your PowerPoint slides?
If so, ask yourself what your objective is. Is it to dazzle people with your graphic design prowess? Or do you need to get their approval for a major initiative?
Being clear about your ultimate objective from the beginning will boost your success at each stage of a project.
2. Develop a bias for action.
When you’re stuck because you fear your work might not be flawless, or you don’t have the perfect right answer, don’t procrastinate. Perfection can lead to inaction.
Stop looking for the perfect way to do something – and just do it! Start, then improve along the way. This might not come naturally, but it’s achievable if you make it your intention.
3. Stop nitpicking.
Be ruthless about dealing with distractions. Precision is important, but you also need to step back and see the big picture. Ask yourself what other priorities are being missed while you’re busy focusing on insignificant details.
Any strength can easily become a liability if it’s taken too far, and perfectionists tend to obsess over every minor detail. Learn to let go of the small things so that you can focus on what matters most.
4. Refrain from excessive checking.
Be alert to anything that might threaten progress – including excessive caution. Yes, you need to check the key details. But don’t do so at the expense of efficiency and momentum.
Do you delay sending important emails because it takes you too long to find the perfect words? Does your team miss key deadlines because they’re double-checking documents and doing endless rewrites? Behaviors like these can make projects slow down, or stall completely.
Don’t sabotage yourself by “second guessing” every choice you make. After you’ve done a reasonable amount of checking, press “send” and move on.
5. Boost your sense of certainty.
One of my clients – I’ll call her Nadia – got a promotion recently. In her new role, she became progressively more anxious about impressing others. She worked extremely long hours, aiming for perfection in everything she did.
Nadia’s approach started to affect her sleep. She ended up getting only four hours of sleep most nights. “I need to show them that I deserve the promotion,” she confided.
People often seek perfection because they’re insecure. It seemed to me that Nadia had a dangerous mix of perfectionism and Impostor Syndrome!
In her book, “The Anxiety Toolkit,” psychologist Alice Boyes provides a tool for keeping your standards high, but avoiding perfectionism.
She advises that we shift our thinking from a performance focus to a mastery focus. Then, our aim to pursue high standards becomes less about proving ourselves to others, and more about gaining and using new skills. Instead of reinforcing our sense of insecurity, we start boosting our self-confidence.
6. Be vigilant about Parkinson’s Law.
Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the time available.
Say you have two weeks to complete a report. You should set yourself an artificial deadline to finish it, and submit it then – rather than waiting until the end of the two weeks. If you try to use all the time you’ve got, you’ll likely continue writing and rewriting your work, to the point where you’re getting “diminishing returns.”
Do your due diligence, set a realistic deadline – and then (to paraphrase Seth Godin), “Ship it already!”
7. Be fair to others.
When you’re leading others, it’s easy to say, “Do as I do.” However, holding others accountable to your own personal standards may not be practical. You can still demand excellence from your team, but don’t confuse excellence with perfectionism.
Excellence is attainable, while perfectionism places an unfair burden on people to achieve impossible standards.
Perfectionism slows down the team, ramps up the stress, and puts overall performance at serious risk.
Cut yourself some slack. Tempering perfectionism for the sake of progress doesn’t mean giving up on excellence.
It’s not about being careless. You’re just setting realistic and achievable standards of performance. The focus is on continuous improvement – not on some distant possibility of perfection.
Focus on knowing when something is good enough, so that you can move on. Ultimately, you need to recognize that progress trumps perfection every time.
How Mind Tools Can Help
Mind Tools has a wide range of resources to help you tackle all the issues raised above.
If you think procrastination is a particular issue for you, why not start with our quiz, Are You a Procrastinator? And, if it turns out that you are… don’t put off doing something about it! We’ve got a great video guide to overcoming procrastination.
Not sure if you’re up to the challenges you face at work? Boost your confidence with our article on beating Impostor Syndrome.
And to maximize progress, we’ve got valuable resources for boosting engagement, increasing motivation, and setting the right level of conscientiousness – to get the best from yourself, and from everyone else on your team.
How do you deal with perfectionism and procrastination? Share your experiences in the Comments, below.
This May, Mind Tools was proud to take part in the ATD International Conference & Exposition in Washington, D.C., the world’s largest event for talent development and learning professionals.
ATD 2019 attracted more than 10,000 delegates to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. We were delighted to be there to share our Corporate offering with L&D leaders from around the globe.
As well as exhibiting at the event, our CEO, Oliver Craddock, gave a joint presentation with the Chief Insight Officer at Towards Maturity, Jane Daly. They discussed the new white paper we’ve worked on together, “Challenging Perceptions: Optimizing Performance by Aligning With the Needs of the Consumer Learner.”
Our Client Success Manager, Ricky Patel (second right in the photograph above) was part of the Mind Tools team in Washington. Ricky gave me his take on ATD 2019.
“There were so many great speakers this year,” Ricky told me. “They ranged from business giants and leaders of industry to media superstars like Eric Whitacre and Oprah Winfrey.”
In between meeting people at the Mind Tools stand, and exploring the event for himself, Ricky got the chance to hear the keynote speech given by entrepreneur and best-selling author Seth Godin.
“He said we’re living in revolutionary times,” Ricky recalled. “As artificial intelligence advances, many roles are already being replaced by technology. So, to future-proof our careers, we need to let our human skills shine.
“Seth explained that it’s qualities like empathy, creativity and insight that distinguish us from the artificial intelligence we create. It’s our ‘human skills,’ or ‘useful skills’ (also known as ‘soft skills’) that will help us to make change happen, make an impact, and make ‘art,’ whatever type of organization we’re in.”
So how do we nurture those skills – in ourselves, and in our people?
Ricky noted that Seth Godin emphasized the word “development.”
“He’s passionate about people getting ongoing opportunities to learn and grow, and the inspiration to keep challenging themselves. With the right resources, they’ll actively choose to learn, keep doing it – and enjoy it!”
Liberated learning is a key theme in Seth Godin’s book, ‘The Icarus Deception,’ and Ricky heard Seth explore the idea further during his ATD address.
“He got us to rethink the whole Icarus story from Greek myth. Yes, Icarus’s father told him not to fly too close to the sun. But he also warned against flying too low, because staying close to the ocean is even more dangerous! And we’ll all fail in the end if we continually play it safe.
“Conformity no longer equates with comfort. In order to soar, we need to be brave innovators, continually pushing the boundaries. Our people need leaders who support that, and the right tools to drive their own learning.”
ATD 2019 gave Ricky the opportunity to speak directly with a wide range of L&D practitioners. He was keen to hear about their L&D strategies, and to discuss the sort of learning solutions they’re looking for.
A common conversation was about the challenges faced by L&D teams to meet their learners’ needs. “And that gave me the chance to talk about our latest white paper,” Ricky said.
“In ‘Challenging Perceptions,’ we explore what L&D professionals think their learners need – but also what those individual learners have to say. And there are some big differences!
“The data shows that L&D practitioners tend to be much more critical of their organizations’ efforts than the learners themselves. For example, only 45 percent of L&D practitioners say that L&D is discussed as part of a performance review or appraisal, whereas 68 percent of learners say that it is!
“And, although only 26 percent of L&D practitioners say self-directed learning is common in their organization, 86 percent of learners say they’re actually learning all the time, as part of their everyday work.”
The white paper takes a detailed look at these and other key differences in people’s perceptions. Crucially, it also explores how we can challenge them.
“Lots of people were talking about that at ATD,” Ricky recalled. “L&D teams are eager to discover how their learners really think and feel – and then to use those insights to engage and inspire them. They know it’s going to be a key step toward creating a culture of learning that’s right for today’s learners.”
See For Yourself
Keen to read the research in full? Our white paper will be available for download soon, so watch this space to get your copy for free!
See You Soon!
We’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who visited the Mind Tools stand at ATD 2019. We hope to see you again next year!
If you missed us in Washington, why not join us at the CIPD Festival of Work 2019, on June 12 and 13 at Olympia in London? It’s actually three events in one: the Learning and Development show, the HR Software and Recruitment show, and the new Future of Work show. Come to meet us, and discover why so many organizations use Mind Tools to engage their people in learning that works!
Proud parents everywhere use their vehicular rear-ends to shout-out their Honor Roll offspring. Others like to mention extracurricular activities like Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and little All-Stars who play games with balls. Me? All that stuff is great. But I want people to know that I’m the proud parent of a hustler!
That’s right! While other kids are playing video games probably, or on Snapchat maybe, my boy is hustling. He’s a little businessman. He’s taking risks. He’s finding opportunities and breaking them wide open. Sometimes he is nickle-ing or even dime-ing. My boy is only in middle school, but he’s already making coin.
ABH (Always Be Huslting)
Hustling is a skill, no doubt. It’s a skill that most of us 9-to-5ers sadly do not have. We’re so used to someone else paying us to work that we may not even know how to hustle. It’s uncomfortable.
But I believe that hustling is the most future-proof skill in the world. Technology will never make it redundant. You heard it here first. This is why I’m proud that my kid is a hustler.
So what is my middle school son doing to get ahead, you ask? He’s selling candy bars in middle school!
Yeah, that’s right. Middle school, it turns out, is a huge untapped candy bar market. I didn’t realize this myself. It’s not something I would have thought about, because I’m just a corporate drone. This is all my boy’s intuition. It’s his opportunity, and he’s figured out how to exploit it.
A Deep Dive on the Middle School Candy Bar Market
The middle school candy bar market is truly massive. Here’s how it works: You see, kids like candy bars. Meanwhile, parents are understandably reluctant to send their kids to school with a lunch pail full of Snickers. This is where the opportunity comes in.
It may not seem obvious to everyone, but this is easy stuff. It’s like printing money. All you need to do is to head over to your local CVS or Rite Aid, where they often have high-quality candy bars on sale. Find the biggest discounts. Don’t just buy your favorite candy bars, buy the ones with the heaviest discounts. It should be 30% to 50% off.
Buy as many of those discounted candy bars as you can afford with your allowance or your birthday money. My son doesn’t have an allowance (aka “basic income”), so please don’t think that’s a requirement here – it’s not!
This is a risk of course, because you’ll lose your shorts if those candy bars melt or are crushed in your backpack before you can unload them. You need to be careful with the merchandise.
Next, bring your candy bars to school, mark them up, and let the sales begin. My son finds that a 75% to 100% markup is the sweet spot. After the big discounts he got at CVS, even a 100% markup is a reasonable price for the middle school market. Go much higher, and you lose some customers.
Most middle school kids are happy to buy a candy bar per day – every day, if they can. They have seemingly endless appetites for those things. At the same time, many middle schoolers have allowances burning holes in their pockets. They’re like noveau-rich; they don’t know how to manage their wealth.
All this adds up to a corporate marketer’s dream – the middle school candy bar market. It’s juicy, and my boy is all-in!
Rules & Regulations
Now, my 13 year-old son doesn’t have the resources to compete with the ground game of big corporate sales & marketing teams like Hershey’s, Mars, or Nestle. They have skills, experience, and deep resources, and they salivate at the middle school candy bar market.
Fortunately, for my son, he doesn’t have to compete with them. This is where school rules come to his aid.
See, most middle schools have rules preventing the sale of candy bars and other junk food on school property. If you’re a middle schooler just looking to buy a candy bar with your allowance, these rules can be understandably frustrating.
But the rules are also generally effective at keeping the big corporate marketing teams off campus (other than the Girl Scouts, of course – they’ve found a loophole with their ubiquitous cookies…).
This creates an opportunity for a young hustler. You’ve got an eager, captive audience, and no competition (other than the Girl Scouts). What else can a hustler possibly want?
Skirting The Rules
What my son has found in his ventures is that most teachers don’t really care if you’re selling a few candy bars here or there, so long as you keep it quiet. They know it happens, and they don’t want to get involved. The teachers just need some plausible deniability. So don’t cause any controversies. Don’t rock the boat, and you’ll be fine…. these are real life skills here!
So teachers are no problem. But what about the parents? Lots of proud parents don’t want their children buying candy bars at school. This is why schools have rules against it.
I get it. I wouldn’t want my kid buying candy bars at school either. Fortunately, he doesn’t… he sells them 🙂
And do I think it’s a good idea to encourage my son to break school rules? You bet I do! Full stop. There is a place for rules and for authority, but I want my children to challenge them when appropriate. Some rules are OK to break. Some authorities should be questioned. A young man needs to learn to think for himself in today’s world, rather than just follow the rules.
The Ultimate Extracurricular Activity
Hustling is the ultimate extracurricular activity for your high-achieving child. It an essential, future-proof skill that will pay dividends for decades. You might do better studying software engineering, but it’s always a good idea to have a side hustle too. And amazingly, they don’t teach a wink of this to all those Honor Roll students. I cannot understand why not.
So when I found out my son was selling candy bars at school, I was a bit overcome with pride. He found the opportunity, took the risk, and is making bank – about $15 per week – all on his own. No, it’s not enough to retire on, but it’s a damn good start. It’s more than I made until I was about 20. Good job little buddy! I’m the proud parent of a hustler!
Title Photo by Found Animal Foundation on Flickr