What would you do without data? How would you plan your personal life if you don’t know your monthly spending, if you don’t know when the weekly garbage truck is coming, if your dashboard doesn’t tell you to fill up your car? How would you catch your holiday flight if you don’t have the departure time?
Same for businesses; how would you set your selling price if you don’t have a detailed product costing? What would you tell your tax inspector if you don’t have an overview of your invoices? How would you get your target market share growth without knowing competitor pricing?
The cruciality of figures and data has always been there for product specs, financial analysis, market and competitor data. Since a few decennia HR and business leaders also try to quantify the value of intangible ‘people’ assets. For good reasons as, “analysts and investors view human capital measures as important predictors of a company’s future health – not least because of the significant impact we intuitively know individuals have on customer satisfaction, productivity and revenues”. (1) Luckily there is now the booming HRIS industry; no surprise HR Big Data was the buzz for 2013.
What I specifically like in the above quote from ‘Mercer Insights’, is the reference to ‘intuition’. It seems that business leaders and investors ‘intuitively know’ that employees are a –if not the- key driver for business success. So if we know it, why spend massive efforts and funds on measuring it? If we know that managers who only command and never listen are hardly successful, why still measure leadership styles? If we know that engaged employees perform much better, why doing global engagement surveys? Is it so important for a CEO to know that the engagement score in Norway is 2.7% higher than in Spain? No, it isn’t.
Now this trend to ‘mathemize’ these intangible people assets comes from two key drivers. First one is the profitable marriage between consulting firms and IT suppliers; as if selling data is the same as selling solutions. Second and even more important is another driver: this generation’s business leaders and investors have lost trust in their own and others intuition. It all reminds me of Einstein’s great quote: “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”
There is a thing here I don’t understand; and if you do please let me know –here below is a comments section. Generating trust is globally recognised as the #1 capability requirement for business leaders to be successful; people will only follow when they trust the leader. That trust originates largely from the intuitive mind; much less from the rational one. So leaders tap on intuition and on gut-feeling, but once in the board room or talking to staff and investors, those same leaders bombard the business world with rational data.
Perhaps it is time for back to basics. Intuition is # 1; data and all the rest follows. “It is through science that we prove, but through intuition that we discover“, the French mathematician (!) Henri Poincare said. Similarly I would say: it is through data that we report outcomes, but through intuition that we lead a business.