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Big Data

The topic of big data has become a trending subject in the business world. It’s no surprise really as the rich complexity of possible data that we can now access bypassed our capability of analysis a long time ago. But now the technology is available that can process larger amounts of data at higher speeds and with more sophisticated analytical approaches. But in the midst of the excitement that this technology surge is creating, followed closely by the $ spend from business leaping on the idea of ‘big data’ as a way of providing competitive advantage (and does anyone else see a Y2K spend trend here?), what does that mean for the rest of us?

The issues behind the big data revolution are relevant to all of us really. There is so much information that you could collect and so many ways of looking at it that the hard part is identifying the right information to analyse.

Looking at the data problem when setting goals we look at the goal setting process. For coaching or personal development you spend time to articulate your goals well so that you will know what they look like when you achieve them and are able to measure that success.

It sounds simple but in reality the hard part is often that measurability especially if the goal is to achieve ‘human change’ when human change involves feelings, attitudes and beliefs as opposed to tangible changes such as ‘drips per second’. How will you know that you have got there, depends on how well you envisage what ‘there’ is. How you will measure it is also dependent on how measurable it is.

For example when we deliver programmes to develop a coaching culture there is often an inherent belief that an improvement in the capability of the people within the organisation will result in improved performance of the organisation itself. It seems a rational belief (better people=better business outcomes). But how do you actually measure that when there are so many different things that can influence business performance (currency fluctuations, market shifts, consumer demand changes, weather etc. can all have an impact on your year and are unrelated to in-house human capability).

Similarly, in personal development and coaching, the coachee will often start out wanting to ‘be better’ (to be a better leader, to step up, to get promoted etc.) but at the start of the coaching the definition of ‘better’ isn’t clear because you don’t know what you don’t know and getting clear on that is the point of the coaching. So how would you set a specific and measurable goal?

In both cases when you look at possible measures there are many that could be collated but if you look at them the wrong way then the analysis is meaningless and may drive the wrong conclusions (for example what conclusion would you draw in a business with low engagement but everyone scores high on recommending it as a place of employment for their friends?)

As these examples show, there is therefore a risk when defining measures, so here are a few things to look out for when setting personal goals or goals for ‘human’ projects:

  • Watch that the wrong metric isn’t chosen to measure success for the right reason
  • Don’t draw links between things that can’t be easily linked (e.g. profit and personal development)
  • If the goal isn’t clear, set a goal to get clear and then set a measure based on that new clarity
  • If you are spending a long time trying to define a perfect goal you are probably making it too hard
  • If all measures are long term they are not motivating on a day to day basis, so break them down into short and medium-term measures that keep you wanting to make the change
  • Don’t be frightened of changing a measure when you know more about the goal
  • Not all measures can be concrete, but enough subjective ‘opinions’ can be taken as valid
  • The better you imagine the end picture the more likely you will find the right measure
  • A few clear measures are better than lots of confusing ones
  • If there is more than one way to achieve a goal don’t let a measure force you down an obvious path in case it restricts your opportunity for real change
  • If things are going to get worse before they get better then be honest about that.


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