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Op/Ed

Compete by using data ruthlessly, but note this often forgotten ingredient

(EDITORIAL) The use of analytic data is already well-documented in identifying likely customer behaviors and responses. But there’s something at the core we aren’t always talking about here.

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Through the power of predictive analytics, I can tell you when your employees are looking for new jobs, based on such factors as the timing of their sick leave requests, their word choice in company memos, and the number of emails that they send and to whom in your organization.

If I want to outsource that responsibility, I can tell you through the efforts of any one of a number of third-party vendors what the likelihood of your employees leaving you is, simply by examining the employees’ behaviors on social media sites, such as Facebook and LinkedIn and aggregating that into a risk factor.

The use of such analytic examinations in human resource functions isn’t a widely established practice yet, but it’s already well-documented in identifying likely customer behaviors and responses. For example, in perhaps an unlikely place, consider amusement parks.

In research conducted by Pikkemaat and Schuckert, they identified key factors that determined customer behavior, including warning signs of customer behaviors that would lead to the failure of parks altogether.

Having the ability to know what your customers think and believe and how those factors will predictably translate into action is an amazing tool, one which allows you to harness hundreds and thousands of data points and utilize them in preparing your business for success.

Predictive analytics are being used to seemingly trivial things, such as determining which items Amazon recommends for you to the challenge of predicting civil unrest in Latin America, which Virginia Tech’s EMBERS project has been doing since November 2012.

I’m not denying either the importance or the power of using predictive analytics to help you better understand your employees or your customers. Having data and utilizing it in a timely fashion to drive planning is the hallmark of a good business plan. You should be appropriately investing in these segments, but at the same time you’re doing so, you shouldn’t forget that behind each of these data points is a real human being.

We’re drowning in information, while dying for wisdom; we have so much data at our fingertips about the actions of people that we often fail to consider the person individually.

Some of this is the ease which data can be amassed and quantified; quantitative research is fairly simple to conduct, assuming that your data points are clear from the beginning, and that you have enough of them, appropriately sampled, to make a generalizable conclusion about the population.

Some of it is science; Dunbar’s number, a theory proposed by anthropologist Robin Dunbar, proposes that humans can hold space for approximately 150 close stable social relationships, although we can obviously tangentially know many more than that. With the human limitations on getting to know one another in a meaningful way, and the speed at which we can now analyze the actions of the group at large beyond our immediacy level, it’s often easier just to let that amalgamation of information serve as an entrée to understanding who your customers and employees actually are as people, rather than just relying on reports on them.

But those reports don’t tell you the whole story. The human touch is what provides the value to your data, and helps you understand how the practices that you take as a leader and those that you implement in your company actually impact people.

So here’s a challenge for you. Gather the data, but leave your office more.

Take the time to call or talk to your team face-to-face rather than just relying on emails or texts to communicate. Write a hand-written note of appreciation when things are going well, or more importantly, a word of encouragement when things aren’t. Ask your customers and staff for input, but only when their input actually matters, and ask them for their support when you need it, with logical reasons why they should care.

Former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill was in public office for nearly five decades, partially because of a lesson that he learned in his first campaign in 1937. Walking outside of his house on election eve, O’Neill was stopped by a Mrs. Elizabeth O’Brien. Mrs. O’Brien was O’Neill’s high school elocution and drama teacher, and a neighbor who lived across the street from him, and had for years.

“Tom, I’m going to vote for you tomorrow even though you didn’t ask me,” Mrs. O’Brien said, looking up at the politician. Her statement shook him; he’d had a neighborly relationship with the woman for years, and had helped her around the house with small chores from time to time

“I didn’t think I had to ask for your vote,” he said.

She replied, “Tom, let me tell you something: People like to be asked.”

People like to be asked, included, and made to feel welcome, customers and employees alike. We all want to feel as if we have value to our workplace, and to the places we brand ourselves with by being a customer of.

Relying only on an impersonal touch doesn’t give you that same level of intimacy, nor does it make anyone feel as if they actually matter. The data collected isn’t as important as the soul welcomed, nor is the ability of your company to make a predictive guess as what’s going to come next as vital as making people feel integrated to your company

Make a customer experience so strong at both the interaction and the heart level, and people will flock to work or buy from you. Ignore that in implementation, and all the data in the world won’t be able to rectify what you’ve broken.

Roger is a Staff Writer at The Real Daily and holds two Master's degrees, one in Education Leadership and another in Leadership Studies. In his spare time away from researching leadership retention and communication styles, he loves to watch baseball, especially the Red Sox!

Op/Ed

Malls repurposed as housing could bring back discrimination

(EDITORIAL) Recycling dead malls into community colleges and libraries are smart ideas, but is there a deeper, darker implication behind the affordable housing idea?

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malls changed into housing

Clever investors want to transform defunct malls into affordable housing. This sounds like a win-win-win at first. It’s helpful, useful, practical – and doesn’t necessarily require federal funding. What a warm and fuzzy idea that can help people and make use of existing structures. Yaaaay!

We need more affordable housing. Nobody will deny that. According to Pew Trusts, the 2018 U.S. housing market was at its least affordable in ten years. Adaptive reuse is a brilliant idea on paper. However, “affordable housing” is not merely a phrase; it holds legal connotations and requirements, both on national and state levels. It’s…complex.

Then my inner skeptic popped up and whispered in my ear, “Careful. What if it’s a trap?” History tells us to be wary of separating people by socioeconomic status (often–though not always–related to race). I started thinking about the long, troubled history of the “projects” in the U.S., which served to effectively segregate low-income families from the post-New Deal era until modern days. This in turn led to less investment in the area, meaning residents had to contend with fewer schools, grocery stores, public transportation routes, and the like.

Perhaps the adaptive reuse of the malls is not so nefarious. After all, these malls are already in residential areas. Therefore, one hopes, decent schools, supermarkets, and public transportation already exist, just as in other areas of a given city. The residents of one mall, one housing development, should not significantly change the housing market and available local resources by much, right? It will be a seamless integration of a whole new group of people into a neighborhood, right? We hope that’s true.

Maybe it won’t be a case of white flight, AKA “There goes the neighborhood” all over again. After all, the ethnic diversity isn’t specified beyond “workforce, student and 55 plus housing,” future residents, as defined by Richard Rubin, CEO of Repvblic, the company leading the charge to invest in old malls and big box stores. It sounds like a positive thing that the new, “recycled” housing developments he’s investing in don’t require federal funding to get built.

Affordable housing is a challenge wherever you look. Investors in multi-million dollar, sexy and modern high rises aren’t traditionally going after the affordable housing market, because what’s in it for them? In Austin, where The American Genius is based, developers already balk at the idea of including the mandated affordable housing units required for new construction. Some developers have even paid the city millions of dollars to get around the requirement.

Adaptive reuse by recycling dead malls into affordable housing feels like a creative, beneficial idea. Yet, I encourage us to delve a bit deeper and ask the hard questions. I mean, there must be a reason there are more movies about hookers with hearts of gold than real estate investors with hearts of gold. This calls for cautious optimism, but also reading between the lines and paying close attention to the details as this type of housing develops.

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Op/Ed

Top 5 reasons resilience is key in the workplace and the hiring room

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) While it matters all the time, 2020 has especially shown resilience is important as an employee or employer to hold their own in the workplace.

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Open workspace, where resilience will be key to success.

If there is ever a time that demonstrates the value of resilience in the workplace, that time is now. Challenges, complexities, and change in our personal and professional spheres are inevitable and required for growth.

Brent Gleeson, author of the book Embrace the Suck: The Navy SEAL Way to an Extraordinary Life breaks down the components of resilience into three dimensions: challenge, commitment, and control. Resilient people see difficulty as challenge and a learning opportunity. They are committed and take ownership over their lives and goals. They spend their energy on that which they have control.

In the context of the workplace, employees and leaders will inevitably face setbacks, critical feedback and change- positive or negative. Managing engagement through this while working remotely can add an additional layer to this. Gleeson highlights five important reasons organizations should understand and work to build resilience in their workforce as part of their culture strategy.

  1. The first is that resilience skills directly benefit the psychological wellbeing of employees. Happy, healthy employees are good for business and the bottom line as well.
  2. Change is bound to happen and adaptability is key. Organizations need leaders, managers, and employees that have the resilience to navigate whatever comes up, as it happens.
  3. Learning and innovation is required to make it in today’s business environment. Even capable and motivated employees need to constantly maintain and hone their skills in a culture where they are allowed to continue to grow and improve.
  4. Resilience can be put to the test in organizations when interpersonal relationships are strained. Teamwork, when lead by intentional leaders, can help employees to frame interactions in a way that reduces negative feeling and improves group dynamics.
  5. Managers who can lead with resilience can help employees with career development and coaching in a way that develops their skills.

Some of the key characteristics that drive heightened levels of mental fortitude as shared by Gleeson are optimism, giving back, values and morals, humor, mentors, support networks, embracing fear, purpose, and intentional training. These contribute to resilience in employees, and in an environment where the only constant is change, the ability to meet the challenges of 2020 and beyond.

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Op/Ed

Enough, is Enough: how much minimalism do you need to succeed?

(EDITORIAL) Nobody starts a business praying for failure and debt. But, if we don’t identify what is enough for us, we can have a hard time pulling ourselves out.

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Enough peace

You’re scrolling on Facebook when you notice your friend’s feed, and the most recent post says, “You are enough.” You may recoil and think to yourself, “blech” what does that even mean? Touchy feely crap. I am “enough.” Ha! I’ll show you enough.

While exploring the concept of being enough may make some folks queasy. Asking the question: How does “enough” translate from our lives to our business? is it relevant and can help us get to our raison d’etre, our sweet spot, our perfect pitch, our business manifesto. And, what is “enough” for us in planning our life and business goals.

Recently, I was watching a British show on Netflix. The gist is an “expert” goes around to businesses to help them update their brands and improve business. In one episode, the host walks into a man’s clothing shop and asks the owner about his wares. He explains in one section he has clothing for the “fat bastards” (I am not making this up – he literally says that), in another section he has styles for the “trendy” kids, in another section, clothes for the businessman.

The owner thinks he’s doing great, but his sales suck, his customer service sucks, and he doesn’t understand why.

From the outside looking in, it seems pretty obvious, the guy is trying to serve everyone and in doing so, he’s doing a crap job of serving anyone. Plus, he was rude and literally didn’t understand that calling customers fat bastards wasn’t good customer service.

From a business point of view, this guy had no concept of what it meant to be “enough” because he was trying to serve too many potential customers and it was a very disjointed effort.

His problem is not unusual. Think about it. Haven’t you gone into a locally owned business to find it selling too many items that make no sense? Kind of a like a gift shop gone wild. You look around and see things you like, but you get confused and leave without making a purchase. Instead, you walk a few doors down to the store that specializes in jeans or shirts or cool shoes and you drop some virtual Benjamins.

In his blog, Paul Jarvis expounds on the idea of being enough. He says, “In order to be more aware of what makes sense for our lives and businesses, we need to be aware of what enough means.”

And, that my friends, depends on who you are. Enough to me may not be enough for you. But, Jarvis explains is that, it can’t be minimalism for Instagram’s sake. Meaning, we aren’t truly living in an enough “state” if we are trying to be what we think others want to see.

Let’s not get caught up in the “yeah, but it’s Paul Jarvis.” Cuz, he also states this isn’t about judging others, because if you ain’t got much, it can seem pretty patronizing for someone to tell you to live with less. And, that isn’t what we’re talking about here.

If we go back to the business concept, consider Apple. The company started off building computers. It veered into phones and watches, but still tied to the idea of smaller versions of its computers. It stayed pretty true to itself. The concept was built around one product. The stores make that product shine. And, we as consumer feel we aren’t enough until we have the newest gadget and gizmo they sell. Brilliant.

For you having the latest gaming system or all the streaming channels may be the thing. For me, I get by with basic cable and Netflix. My enough isn’t yours.

So, if we are being truly cognizant of what we want in our business and lives, we need to understand what enough is for us. Not what is enough based on someone’s feed on Instagram, showing them with the Lambo (rented) and fancy clothes (rented) and fancy location (maxed credit card). We need to consider where we, from a truly authentic space, can live in enough.

Per Jarvis:
“Enough is the antithesis of unchecked growth because growth encourages mindless consumption and enough requires constant questioning and awareness. Enough is when we reach the upper bound of what’s required. Enough revenue means our business is profitable and can support however many employees/freelancers we have, even if it’s just one person. Enough income means we can live our lives with a bit of financial ease, and put something away for later. Enough means our families are fed, have roofs over their heads and their futures are considered. Enough stuff means we have what we need to live our lives without excess.”

One way to think about enough is to sit back and consider what would be your perfect day. If you were doing what you wanted – no holding back – what would your day look like. Imagine it. Are you really shopping and dropping $1k on a pair of shoes? Maybe. Or, are you hanging out with someone you love, doing work the way you want, having some food, walking your dog, doing yoga, CrossFit, etc., enjoying dinner and heading to bed?

If you think about business in the same way, what would your business look like? Would it be like 7-Eleven with Slurpee’s, Slim Jim’s, lottery tickets and birthday cards? Or, would it look more refined? Because, Target and Walmart have a lock on mega shopping experiences. 7-Eleven has a lock on, it’s 4 a.m., I’m wasted and need crap food.

Consider, how does your idea of equilibrium impact the outcome of your business, your work, your idea of success?

Most of us would love to be wealthy and that is our guidepost when it comes to the idea of business success. But, when evaluating it from the perspective of “enough” our viewpoint might change if one considers debt load to profit or unsold, stolen or damaged goods to profit. If you have more debt than cash, are you enough?

“Where things can go awry is when we never consider what enough is as a marker,” Jarvis says. “When this happens, we don’t solve for enough or optimize for it, we just keep going and going with more and more.”

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