Saturday, November 13, 2010

Data Coaching is What's New

On December 8th, 2010, Lacey Leone McLaughlin and I will teach a workshop called data coaching. The program is run by the Center for Effective Organizations at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California. It’s a great institution, celebrating over 30 years of a unique approach to helping organizations through:

Action research – Action learning and Action taking

In this blog I will introduce you to data coaching, which is a new initiative.

Background: We’ve been doing data coaching and something called data audit work for both human resources (HR) and communications professionals. Both fields have progressed with data along the same lines. They went from no data to some data to now having lots and lots of data. HR provides its internal stakeholders with dashboards that have lots of information about employees, their performance, their movement, and their productivity. The communications field has data about each of the communications they provide, and with the rise of the Internet, email, and social media, today there are lots and lots of types of communications people are using.

The first round of measurement seemed to be "how are we doing?" You see metrics on HR and communications effectiveness. Even some of the first survey work being done in organizations tends to be around "are we ok" questions.

Evolution: As the fields evolved, they moved their data beyond how well they were performing to how employees were doing. Initiatives began to measure things like employee response to communications (like or not like), employee engagement, employee satisfaction, culture, turnover, absenteeism, new hire productivity, and exit data. Everyone seemed pleased with all these data.

Evidence-based approaches: In fact, there's a lot of talk today about something called "evidence-based management' and this way of thinking is being utilized to help focus measurement. What's so interesting about the evidence-based work in medicine (where the work originated) is that doctors are now supplementing their evidence with the narrative. Doctors and medical researchers are learning to tell stories with their data. This is because story telling is the future of evidence-based work if you want people to pay attention to your message. The medical field needs evidence; no one wants to start taking medicine or be scheduled for surgery without knowing that research was done and data gathered to validate the use of the procedure or drug. But what medical researchers and doctors learned was that lots of data and evidence were not necessarily changing public opinion or behavior.

The need for the narrative: There is an accumulating amount of knowledge about how the brain works. Scientists study brain activity when people are provided with different types of stimulus. One such experiment has been run with data, and you know what - people do not get too excited about data. What we learn is that people don't emotionally respond to data, and thus, they do not remember data. What the human mind responds to, however, is a story. Stories provide context; stories provide the process by which the mind can get activated and then remember.

So all that good data we're producing in HR and in communications -- without a good story -- you might as well just forget about distributing it. That's why we see so little action as a result of the multitude of surveys that are done within businesses. A deck of 50 slides with bar charts, even with little statistical significance symbols, or notes saying you are "in the best of class" now - is still just a bunch of numbers. Time and time again executives approach me with their big decks that they got from HR or communications and they ask "can you make sense of this?"

Beyond making sense of your HR or communications data: There is a need for people to learn to be data coaches. Data coaching is a brand new skill for HR and communications professions. Some data coaching has been going on in education; the focus has been on helping teachers use data to help children succeed and learn. The approach we use in data coaching for HR and communications is to help these professionals learn to use data to assure managers take action that leads to business results.

Learning data audit and data coaching skills: We have had to invent something new to teach data coaching. We are uniquely blending human capital analytics with story telling, with a key emphasis on the narrative. What we find is that the way we present data in HR and in communications does NOT follow the rules of how to tell a good story. So we are changing that. The workshop we run is not going to turn a dialogue person into a data person; what we can successfully do is to help everyone learn to take the data they have and tell a better story with it. We start by teaching participants to do their own data audit, or at least learn enough about the process to work with a professional who can do a data audit for them. The data audit helps uncover the stories (or lack of perhaps) that exist in your own data. It also pinpoints the holes in the current metrics strategy. If you want to improve your human capital metrics, then the data audit process provides the answers to streamline and focus your data with stakeholders and stories in mind.

Outcomes: I recently did a webinar on the data coaching process, and one of our past data coaching participants helped with the program. There are two webinars available for anyone interested in learning more.

Go to and type in data coaching. There is a webinar from October 27, 2010 with Northrop Grumman and an older one on January 27th, 2010 with O2. Both have the slides and audio for your viewing and listening pleasure.

Next public data coaching workshop - Be there!

The next 2.5 day workshop is being offered December 8 - 10th. The program is in Redondo Beach, CA -- need I say more -- Southern California in December, a great topic, and a small, interactive group and time to learn to transform your data from "boring" to "interesting."

Custom data coaching and data audit work

For those of you intrigued with the data audit and data coaching work, we also are offering custom data audit and data coaching programs. Write to to get more information.

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