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data analyis

Confronting Your Data-Driven Bureaucracy

The only data you need are those needed for making a decision. Yet in my experience, much data reported to head offices are rarely needed or used. At one point an individual datum might have been important for some kind of decision which is why its collection was mandated. Years later though, few people can remember what important decision that was.

At one company I know, a sales team refused to accept orders for excess inventory from a customer if it meant they sold more than what they had forecast. Why? All to ensure their forecast is accurate against actual sales. Accuracy is a KPI after all, they would say.

Sell more than you had forecast, and you end up with variance in some report—which somehow is considered bad no matter the benefit to the business. Never mind that the company would then have to dispose of unsold inventory as scrap. That is to say nothing of unnecessarily turning down business from a successful customer who sold more volume than anticipated and the loss of opportunity to both businesses.

At different company in Japan, headquarters required a monthly report of sales data minutiae, typical collected and compiled by a dedicated retail sales data analyst. The position had gone unfilled in Japan, and it did not look like a reasonable candidate would be found anytime soon. Believing the report imperative, the sales director in Japan was running himself ragged, working late hours and giving up weekends with his family to submit all the data on time. As sales director, he had been achieving outstanding results for the business. Now burnout was a real risk. His health was suffering. He was considering quitting.

I asked the sales director to call up the executive in headquarters who required the data and explain the situation in Japan is untenable. Find out what data he or she really needs and why.

Why ask ‘why?’ Because it is the decision that needs to be made that matters, and who knows? Maybe the data needed is different from what the executive thinks.

It had not occurred to the sales director that he could confront his headquarters in this way. To his credit, he did. In the end, the two agreed most of the data was unneeded. The two agreed to have a brief monthly phone call to discuss Japan, and that was more than enough—more than enough because a conversation with a human on the ground can tell you far more what you need to know than a morass of data points in a report alone.

In my experience, excellent managers always keep the best interests of the business in mind when deciding how to do something, even if that means challenging bureaucracy, processes and rules that have outlived their utility, regardless of rank in the business.

Excellent managers always keep the best interests of the business in mind when deciding how to do something, even if that means challenging bureaucracy, processes and rules that have outlived their utility, regardless of rank in the… Click To Tweet

In the case of company that was refusing to sell available inventory beyond forecast, the sales director had to go all the way to the CEO, who was livid when told of the practice. When you escalate far enough, you find the person in authority who cares about the money.

In your business, will your people escalate to you? If not, teach them how. And if you are not sure how to do so yourself, contact me and I will send you a summary of Six Tactics for Confronting Bureaucracy.


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