As a child, you may have played the game called, Telephone. It is where people sit in a circle and one whispers a statement into the ear of the person sitting next to them. It continues until everyone has had a turn to heard to relay the statement until it reaches the last person who sits before the original whisperer. Then, that last person says the statement. Almost every time, what they say and what the original person said are never the same. It can create quite a few giggles at a slumber party, but in business, it is rarely a good thing because, it is a distortion of reality. It us fairly safe to say that if managers are making decisions on what is not real, then it is very easy to make wrong decisions. When data is trickling upward through layers of people in an organization through hearsay, it is likely that the answers are going to be distorted. If you company is using multiple reports and sources to provide answers to basic questions, then it may be time to revise your reporting strategy. You may not be getting answers from the data that you think you are.
So how exactly can data get distorted in reporting? After all, it is usually just a matter of numbers and simple math. There are a few reasons this could happen:
- Somewhere along the reporting path there may be a different perception of what the question is or how it should be answered
- The question asked of the actual person who answered the question was not answering your question in its entirety
- Different and conflicting resources may be needed to provide the answer
- There may be a variable in time frame from when the question was asked to when the answer was delivered
- People tend to tell superiors what they want to hear and will deliver the news in a manner that hides a problem
So the challenge becomes getting low level performance statistics through multiple layers of management. The larger the company is, the larger this problem becomes. No one is intentionally lying, but the answers are distorted all the same. The only way to avoid this is to place an automated process behind the questions where you rely on their answers to make decisions and run your business. This is the underlying theory of Business Intelligence. Direct your questions to your data and actual facts and real numbers will answer them. You know best how the answers can be derived, how you want them delivered to you and when you want them. Automation allows you to take control of this process. What may be even more important is make sure everyone in the company can see what those questions and answers are, so everyone may operating from the same page. It is this understanding of the KPI that creates a culture of success in performance. It is automation that enables the understanding. If you are the only one receiving the answers, then it may not be fair to hold people accountable if the answers are repeatedly not the ones you want to see.
If to correlate this to the Telephone game, the value of automating and communicating your reporting is to be certain that the question or statement will be the same regardless of the position of who speaks up in the corporate circle.