What data should we collect? Part 4: The organisational reality

In our fourth and final blog in our series, we discuss the organisational reality of workplace data collection.

The truth is organisations and businesses of all kinds routinely collect data. The most obvious being financial results. How many products have been sold this week? What is our total revenue for the year? How much have costs gone up this month compared with last month? These are all nicely quantifiable and can be broken down into cost and revenue categories and for many are the core of any performance reporting. In a business context this type of data can easily gain the attention of decision makers and senior management.

So can data about the workplace command the same levels of attention as financial performance or will it simply languish at the back of a report that never gets read?

At one level the answer comes back to the issue we explored in our second blog in this series ‘It depends’. If there is a clear link between the data you are collecting and organisational performance in a way that ties in with key strategic objectives then it should be a no brainer, shouldn’t it? We gave some examples of these kind of linkages in that blog post. Unfortunately this is where organisational reality gets in the way.

It was back in 1992 that Robert S Kaplan and David P Norton published their first article in the Harvard Business Review which introduced the idea of the balanced scorecard – a set of financial and, crucially, operational measures that would give ‘top managers a fast but comprehensive view of the business’ which they likened the to ‘dials and indicators ‘in an airplane cockpit that are essential for ‘the complex task of navigating and flying’. The concept they developed and revisited in 2010, was based on research into 12 companies ‘at the leading edge of performance measurement’ and was subsequently adopted by many other organisations who were interested in looking at their businesses from four different and interrelated perspectives: financial/shareholder, customer, internal processes and, innovation and learning. So far so good; this approach has led companies today to a common understanding that a broad based set of performance indicators can be valuable, even if the specifics of the BSC as originally envisioned by Kaplan and Norton are not always rigorously in place. This is a business environment that should provide scope for many organisations to see the value of workplace data, perhaps in the context of measuring internal capability, especially data collected on a continuous basis. Indeed some have attempted to develop standard workplace metrics. The difficulty first comes in finding enough evidence to make any link with the overall business vision, strategy and objectives, and second, even if that evidence can be demonstrated, the advocate may still struggle to convince the right decision makers. This leads on to another difficulty – fighting for space in the data crowd.

The template for the balanced scorecard as represented by Kaplan and Norton HBR July-August 2007

Kaplan and Norton noted that ‘companies rarely suffer from having too few measures’. They argued that developing a balanced scorecard forced companies to focus on the ‘handful of measures that are most critical’. If you are a senior manager you don’t have time to plough through pages of statistics, you want the executive summary.

Nevertheless, some have tried to create standard workplace metrics, which have relevance to business performance and therefore should make sense within a real organisational context. We have already blogged about Jacob Morgan and his concept ‘Employee Experience Advantage’ and Neil Usher who advocates a very simple approach to workplace measurement also comes to mind. Still, the growing landscape of workplace data collection can look confusing and the complexities of linking workplace design decisions to organisational performance indicators are also not to be underestimated.

At brainybirdz we specialise in understanding the organisational realities, especially in helping organisations to think of the physical workplace as a catalyst for greater collaboration. Generating data is only relevant if it fits into the existing performance measurement landscape and if decision makers are convinced that it does fit and is relevant. Sometimes that task is made easier if data collection is positioned as part of a one off strategic review where presenting evidence about how the workplace is performing can be used as a basis for a decision to invest in a new office fit out or re-location. This may then pave the way for a more continuous approach to collecting and analysing workplace data at a later stage, ideally with some link back into personal or team performance reward systems.

This is our final blog in this four part series about workplace data collection. The other three parts are available here:

Part 1: Why bother?

Part 2: It depends…

Part 3: Big data vs small data

If you would like to find out more about our approach to data collection and workplace science in general contact us.

One thought on “What data should we collect? Part 4: The organisational reality

  1. Pingback: What data should we collect? Part 3: Big data vs small data | brainybirdz

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