Using Data as a Sixth Sense

From CEOs of large multi-national corporations all the way down to customer service reps on the front line, most of us spend our workdays making decisions. Over the last few years, companies have been decoding data to provide context on their customers’ preferences to give them key insights into markets, competitors and sales to drive company performance. Organizations that excel at using this external data are leading the way, at least until their competitors catch up. But what about turning this strategy inward and looking inside our companies?

Using data as a sixth sense is our ability to pair analytics with human instincts to gain a perspective that’s grounded in data but tempered by experience. It gives people an unprecedented amount of information to assess a situation and make better decisions faster.

As a decision-making superpower, data as a sixth sense does two things: It leverages one’s existing experience to inform context around the decision, and it eliminates personal biases and emotions, which can cloud an issue.

Likewise, there are really two sides to the sixth-sense coin: What happens leading up to the point in which you make a decision, and then what happens during that moment. In the lead-up, your sixth sense functions like an organizational proprioceptor. Proprioception is your body’s awareness of where your limbs are at all times. For your company, organizational proprioception provides your people with an innate awareness of everything that’s happening within the company and eliminates their blind spots without needing to explicitly seek that information out.

At the actual decision-making point, informed intuition kicks in. Data as a sixth sense helps employees recognize when their gut instincts don’t agree with the perceived facts. It provides them with the knowledge of how to use the data at their fingertips to make faster, smarter decisions.

So how do you develop this decision-making superpower? There is some work involved, but it’s fairly straightforward. There are three parts to consider: Collecting, analyzing and presenting the data.

Collect Data

What are you going to collect? As much data as possible, keeping in mind you should only collect data from the public record (no personal data). Data storage is cheap to the point that, these days, it’s almost free, so instrument your organization to collect and store as much as possible. You’ll be surprised at how valuable those seemingly disconnected data points can become for your team.

Collect both self-reported and ambient data. Self-reported data includes things like expense reports and time sheets. Ambient data is automatically generated in the process of doing work.

Be sure you have a really clear data-usage policy in place before you start. Make sure that your team knows what you’ll collect and how it will be used. Transparency and trust are absolutely key to implementing a successful data program.

Analyze Data

Now that you’re collecting data, you can start to ask it questions. What are the surprising correlations? Do teams that sit together outperform distributed teams? Let the data inform you. If you’re looking for a great resource on analyzing data, we suggest Competing on Analytics: The New Science of Winning (Davenport & Harris, 2007).

Present Data

Reports, dashboards, heads-up displays—call it what you want—but to make the most of your new decision-making superpower, you need to put the right data in front of the right eyes at the right moment. For example, at Klick, everything we do runs through our intranet/operating system. We embed task-critical data on screen at exactly the time the info is needed. This data, combined with our talented team members’ own experiences helps them to make inform decisions.

We live in an era where data is cheap and everywhere. The key is to decode it and use it as a sixth sense internally to reap the rewards for both you and your employees.

Side Bar: Case Study: UPS

Using data as a sixth sense to make better decisions faster isn’t just a theoretical concept. It’s a reality for a growing number of progressive companies that decode the work data trailing their employees and projects.

Take UPS for example. Each of its drivers is tasked with the job of delivering a truck full of packages in the shortest amount of time, taking into account traffic, accidents, construction, bad weather and other criteria that influence their performance and the company’s overall customer satisfaction.

Drivers used to rely purely on experience and instinct to do the job. Six years ago, however, UPS introduced its On-Road Integrated Optimization and Navigation system (known as ORION) to determine the most streamlined and efficient delivery route. ORION factors in map data, customer information, business protocols and work rules—almost 80 pages of mathematical formulas—to inform their intuition and help its drivers make better decisions, faster.

The system doesn’t replace the driver—it simply helps and enhances the driver, enabling productivity only possible using data.

What’s more, the data told UPS that by eliminating left turns, drivers could reduce their trucks’ gas consumption, carbon footprint and risk of accidents. In 2011, the company saved nine million gallons of fuel and 98 million minutes of idling time, thereby helping drivers improve delivery times and getting their jobs done better and quicker.

  • Leerom Segal

    Leerom Segal is a pioneer of the “Decoded” movement and CEO of Klick, a $100M company with an award-winning culture that puts employees first and uses technology and data to fuel its 30% annual growth. He is also co-author of "The Decoded Company" and a winner of the “Young Entrepreneur of the Year” award from Ernst and Young.

    • Jay Goldman

      Jay Goldman is a Managing Director at Klick Health and leads Kick’s Sensei Labs team in addition to heading the company’s Innovation group. He is a co-author of the New York Times bestseller “The Decoded Company” and has been published in the “Harvard Business Review.”

      • Rahaf Harfoush is a co-author of "The Decoded Company." A digital strategist, she also wrote "Yes We Did: An Insider’s Look at How the Media Built the Obama Brand."

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