Problem: Collecting and measuring data is limited in its utility if it doesn't provide insights into more contextual realities that align with organizational strategy.
Opportunity: Develop a framework of measures that capture the intended and anticipated outcomes as defined by the mission, vision, and desired impact, as expressed by leadership.
Resolution: Use impact as a compass and accountability tool to align teams, inform operational prioritization and resource allocation, and build trust and confidence with key stakeholders to accomplish what you say is most important.
The greatest leadership challenge is also the most significant leadership opportunity.
To complement the language of mission, vision, and values with the dimensions and measures necessary means we can clarify goals, objectives, execution, and progress.
The temptation of many leaders is to declare what will be in language alone. This exercise is of paramount importance in that it helps key stakeholders understand intent, desire, and focus. But what if language isn't enough? What if language alone, within the context of strategy, is only part of the conversation?
Data: A Technical Challenge or a Leadership Discipline?
Data is all around us. It is the spine by which we operate our brands, businesses, and causes. In fact, it has become so ubiquitous that it is now permeating our personal lives. And this is all a very good development. It means that we can take what is spoken and quantify it to ensure we continuously check ourselves against what we perceive to be true. The result is a higher degree of understanding and confidence that what we want to achieve becomes a reality.
But if the collection of data is not a problem, then the tools by which the business manager has in his or her toolbox must be the challenge. This was true several years ago. You needed specialists to participate in the work of data because it was complicated, technical, and highly specialized. This is no longer an issue. With the rise of PowerBI, Tableau, and Google Data Studio, the business manager can now participate in the data conversation. And if the business manager can participate, so will key stakeholders inside and outside an organization.
That means it is not the availability of data or the tools to interact with the data that is holding leaders back from doing the work necessary to measure impact.
If it is not a technical or specialty gap, then what could it be? I think we have to look at the gap in leadership expectations, one that is quickly losing to the demands of the general marketplace to eliminate the gap between opportunity and impact.
What Will Be Required to Measure Impact?
Leaders will need to expand their toolbox to include data visualization as a means by which they quantify linguistic intent. Words matter. Storytelling matters. But so do numbers. And you can't begin to understand if what you want to happen will happen until you can define in such a way that it can be measured.
Leaders will need to engage the data experts and business intelligence teams within their organizations as collaborators. Impact doesn't happen in a vacuum, and neither should strategy. Leaders need to embrace the insights that can be provided by the experts already on their team. And if you don't have this talent in-house, then outsource it.
Leaders will need to listen to key stakeholders and understand the gap between their current and future capacity. The benefit of measuring impact is the natural feedback it provides. Not only does it provide progress against key goals, but it also offers you the chance to share with people outside your organization to see how it squares with their interests and hopes for you and your organization. It could unlock the latent potential for current and future investments.
Leaders will need to lead the way in holding themselves accountable, as well as their organizations, to achieving what they say is their goal. The availability of data is empowering investors and donors to assess how well a leader is at delivering on what he or she says they will do. Get ahead of this, or you will be run over by it.
Leaders will need to participate in the data conversation not merely to understand what has already happened but to make real-time decisions based on new information over short increments of time. This is the most challenging of all. When you can measure impact, you can then triage, prioritize, and make ROI-based decisions every day. But this is a new skill set and tempo that will require some adjustments.
The Potential of Measuring Impact
The most profound shifts that will take place when impact becomes measurable are:
A refined understanding of actual vs. potential impact. Clarity around what is happening and what could happen is essential for making critical leadership decisions that will fuel your growth.
Better alignment with the needs, desires, and expectations of key stakeholders. Data is a common framework by which you can engage your stakeholders within and outside your organization and get immediate feedback. That means you'll know if you're off or on-point way before the quarterly or annual reporting times.
A more efficient organization grounded in interdisciplinary and collaborative teams working together to resolve a persistent challenge or obstacle. Measuring impact can't be done in isolation. As you seek to resolve this gap, you'll come to appreciate the value of a team and team-based accountability. The world moving forward will look less industrial as time passes by.
A systematic approach to building listening platforms that allow for scalable feedback to ensure the voice of the customer is at the strategy table. Data affords you the chance to create a listening platform. Your data was already saying something. But until you create a context such as measuring impact, you can't hear it. Now you can.
A persistent review of risks, gaps, and costs that can lead to better operational efficiencies and reduced costs overall. Leadership, like driving, is a series of course corrections. In software development, the present and future will look at lot less like waterfall development approaches and much more agile and flexible. When the goal is the outcomes rather than the process, how you get there is less important than that you get there.
The Challenge and Opportunity
We are far from where we could be, yet we are closer than we've ever been. It's of paramount importance that leaders wrestle through difficult questions and conversations.
The opportunity to placate the impact of data on measuring impact will only last so long. If those within your organization can't influence the change, if key stakeholders can't encourage the change, then the customer or donor will demand the change.
When data compliments your strategy, agility will become possible. And when you are flexible yet anchored in your strategy, you will go farther faster. And you'll know when you arrive at where you intended at the onset of your leadership journey.
Ben Stroup is Chief Growth Architect and President at Velocity Strategy Solutions where he helps leaders design, develop, and deploy smarter business growth strategies. Ben is a futurist, disruptor, and data champion. He leads a team that takes a structured learning approach to business challenges, which allows them to assist leaders in bridging the gap between ideas, innovation, and revenue—taking ideas from mind to market.
Velocity Strategy Solutions is an on-demand, next-generation business strategy and management consulting firm which provides clients with a relentless focus on data, execution, and results that positively impact the bottom line. Velocity delivers integrated people and revenue strategies combined with a disciplined approach to growth architecture that elevates the capacity of leaders, teams, and organizations to succeed and win more.