I've Said It Before And I'll Say It Again - Yes, Data Really Is Our Friend


While we all know that metrics and monitoring performance are good. In fairness, most of us hate to see what the numbers say. Every time I think about metrics, I picture "The Biggest Loser" and the dreaded moment when each person finds out how much weight they've and agonizes as to whether or not they made the cut. At least, that's how it feel to me - have I/we made the cut?

But, if you surround yourself with data and make it transparent to everyone, it somehow loses some of its judgmental nature. The current data may be better or worse than the past. That judgment, however, becomes less important than figuring out why you've been more or less successful and how to get back on track when performance is down.

So, let's talk about the charter school first. The Phalen Leadership Academy opened in fall 2013 at 2200 Illinois Ave with the specific goal of improving performance for Indy's inner city kids. And, >90% of the school's students are on free or reduced lunch. This school year, it has only K-2 classes. What amazed me when I visited was the data graphs at the entrance to every classroom. I was so amazed that I had to snap a picture. For each 10-week period, each grade level has 10 concepts they are working on mastering. Mastery is defined as 85% of the scholars in each class has mastered the concept. Each teacher is responsible for testing mastery every week and posting the data. But, each teacher also gets to decide how to show their data. Some use bar charts. Some just show the percent. There actually was a wide variety. Sometimes, the concept shows almost linear improvements week-by-week. Other times, progress is more up and down. But having the data out in the open gives teachers a chance to think about why some skills went up (or down) week by week and see whose scores are improving the most. This data transparency leads to exchanges of best practices. So far, it seems to be working. The school just tabulated the first 10 weeks' performance and on average students have gained 1.5 years of education...that's in 10 weeks or 1/4th of the school year.

PERQ (formerly known as CIK) is the local company leading by example on data transparency. The Kelley School has worked with CIK for the past 6 years or so. Every semester, they host our Evening MBA strategy class to show how they share their company's vision and create the culture that they want. PERQ's principals, Scott Hill (@bizgamer) and Andy Medley have been visible and strong supporters of the Indy venture community as well. Recently, they integrated three separate but related companies and the holding company under a new brand name - PERQ. As part of the new brand launch, they invited the venture community into their offices to check out their latest offering and see how they make their own performance data transparent. As Scott shared, they see "Business as a game, and you can't win if you don't know the score." Here's a recent article on entrepreneur.com that highlights how they approach data sharing. http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/230296

And, PERQ has been through a tough couple of years. Two of their businesses went from Inc. 500 fastest growing companies to serious cutbacks and layoffs during the recession. You see, they serve the newspaper and automotive industries. And these two industries were quite hard-hit from 2007 to 2012. Throughout the mostly bad news, they continued to honestly and openly share the performance data. Many times, it didn't feel good. And, week by week or month by month, the data isn't always positive. But, they closely review misses and figure out how to get things back on track. This close monitoring helped the company stay afloat, if smaller, during the bad times. Now, they've moved what was mostly print promotions businesses to software-enhanced promotions with incentives. Between the integration of technology and the macroeconomic upswing, data sharing has become a lot more fun.

Anyway, by now I am sure you get the point - even though we don't always like the data we have, monitoring it and sharing it can make it better. How will you track your progress this year?