I love this quote by José Mourinho. Whilst the context is about football it can equally be applied to the world of people analytics. Football is awash with data detailing every aspect of what players are doing broken down to minute detail. In this ‘Moneyball’ era data is king. But as Mourinho neatly remarks, in order to compete at the highest level you need to invest and build a strong analytical capability to differentiate. Teams that fail to do this are getting left behind. Simply collecting data is not enough. It is what you do on the back of it that is the difference between winning and losing.
I think there are two insights from the quote that can help build and develop analytical capabilities in HR teams.
Value lies in the analysis (and action) not collecting mountains of data
Fuelled by new self-service technologies, organisations are amassing vast reams of data about their people. However, value is created not in the amount of data you collect but how you interpret, analyse and take action. You can kid yourself that by collecting mountains of data you’re building an analytical capability. You’re not. You’re just aimlessly collecting ‘stuff.’ Unless you do something about it, you may as well not collect the data in the first place (and save your people a lot of hassle).
It’s far more effective to focus your data collection and analysis in targeted areas, driven by business priorities, than to aimlessly collect data on anything and everything. Instead of producing diluted dashboards on every metric under the sun, it is far more effective to target this against a prioritised set of issues relevant to your business. Go deep rather than broad.
A strong analytical capability creates differentiation
If analysis is key, then HR needs to grow and build strong analytical capabilities in their teams and make an effort to do this. We need to hold an honest mirror up to the current capability and where appropriate address the gaps.
We should also as a profession look beyond our own traditional circles to understand best practice. We would do well to learn about how areas as diverse as marketing and sport analyse data and apply these practices to our own domain. Similarly, to help build analytical capabilities we need to work across the business and use the subject matter experts to help. How often has an HR professional asked a data scientist in marketing to gain insight and advice with the reports they’re producing? We need to do more of this. Equally we need to invest in upskilling team members and acquiring talent to help bridge the gap. By making a conscious and concerted effort to upskill and grow analytical capabilities we will create more value to the business.
Against the backdrop of political uncertainty, economic instability and an increasing divided society, there are a multitude of forces affecting us. Whether it’s from dealing with issues like the uncertainty of Brexit, terrorism, the automation of jobs (to name only a mere few), we need leaders at all levels to effectively lead in a world where “headwinds” are simply the norm.
Despite being published at the turn of the century, Jim Collins’ Good to Great provides insight into how leaders can help navigate through these troubled waters. In particular it’s the idea of the Stockdale Paradox that many of today’s leaders should take note of.
To quote Collins the “Stockdale Paradox is the ability to retain faith that you will prevail in the end, yet be able to confront the brutal facts of your current reality.” The concept was inspired by Admiral Jim Stockdale, who was incarcerated in a Vietnamese prisoner-of-war camp for eight years. Despite unimaginable treatment he was able to survive by balancing the faith that he would one day be released against the brutal acceptance of his current treatment.
When leaders are tasked with facing some of today’s challenges they should remind themselves of this principle. Outlined below are some of my reflections from this:
- Brutally accept your current predicament and don’t operate on pure optimism alone. What underpins the paradox is the ability to accept your current reality – no matter how terrible this is. You need a cast iron will that you will prevail but ground this in understanding the facts you face now. This requires a blend of emotional intelligence and the self-belief to be brave enough to accept your current problems yet have the hope that you will get through those dark nights.
- Be able to authentically paint a compelling future that is grounded in the reality of today’s issues. Leaders have to accept the duality of accepting the current challenge of today yet still being able to paint a genuinely authentic and inspiring future. It’s a blend of being able to present today’s problems, without applying a ‘spin’ on them and provide a compelling future. Today’s leaders need to find an authentic yet inspiring voice to be able to do this that can energise their followers.
- Complexity is fine, the key is never to give up. Often there is a tendency to try and dilute complexity in favour of overt simplification. However, some of today’s greatest problems can’t be simplified. They’re complex so we have to get over this. What the Stockdale Paradox reinforces is the need to embrace the complexity of balancing hard facts with hope, get comfortable with it but always keep moving and never give up.
Fifteen years on the original publication many of Good to Great’s ideas are still as relevant now as then. When leaders face those unenviable decisions and are in the mire they could do well to remind themselves of these ideas.