How to access a goldmine of hidden data to improve business results

Photo by Mini Thian on Unsplash

Photo by Mini Thian on Unsplash


We’re in an age of big data.

Companies use digitally stored data as a way of creating business value. Quite rightly too, as properly diced, sliced and analysed digital data can support decision making in everything from business direction and strategy to what colour pens you should give away at conferences.

However, doesn’t it seem strange that, despite an obsessive focus on data, companies routinely overlook a rich and hidden source. You could be using this data in your business in the same way you use all the other data you use, the thing is you probably don’t.

The costs of overlooking this data to your organisation could be huge.

The hidden data I’m talking about is not the hard digital stuff you store in the cloud but the personal knowledge, anecdotal, opinion based data held by your employees.

Think about it. In solving problems, making decisions, taking risks, we all either do it on our own or involve others. However, do we always involve everyone we could or should? In meetings, for example, do you go round everyone present asking for their contribution on an issue? Or do the two or three most vocal or just the high performers discuss the issue, followed up by a quick whizz round the table for anybody else’s comments at the end.

This is the traditional approach to doing business. Working norms have been established, the most vocal are comfortable leading the discussion, the least vocal are happy in the background. Workable solutions are determined then executed without wasting time, and it seems to work. Or at least it has until now.

Today the performance of teams is prized over that of individuals and the behaviours of your most talented are not always those that lead to effective teamwork. For example, taking the lead and arriving at a solution quickly isn’t very collaborative, and high performers are often not good at letting others say their piece and listening attentively before allowing the team to come up with an answer.

Hard data on this are few and far between but there was a small study by the Department of Management Systems at the University of Waikato in New Zealand, where they analysed videos of ten face-to-face meetings. They found that 30% of available airtime was taken by the highest single contributor and over 50% was taken by the two highest contributors. Others present said relatively little, meaning the data they might have contributed and which could have made a significant difference was unspoken and remained hidden.

That was a small piece of research from nearly 20 years ago, so maybe not the most compelling evidence. However, this article is about the value of soft data so maybe a soft data approach to gathering evidence is more appropriate. Next time you’re in a meeting try observing what’s actually going on. Does everyone get equal airtime or do two or three people take the lion’s share?

That’s it.

Observe what happens in meetings in where you are.

If everyone contributes and is given equal airtime you’re getting access to a lot of valuable data. However, if just a few people do all the talking and everybody else contributes relatively little, the chances are you’re missing out on a goldmine of hidden data that could make a real difference. Some of the results we’ve measured with our clients are: improved motivation and increased contribution from previously ignored employees; reduced complaint escalations, improving the client relationship and freeing up resources and senior manager time; retaining contracts where the client is just about to pull the plug; substantially increasing revenue through selling existing clients further services. Plus, there are potential longer term impacts that weren’t measured, such as improved client retention, reduced employee turnover, enhanced company reputation and new client wins.

All down to something as simple as taking turns, which we surely all learned was a good thing at school and have somehow forgotten as we got older.

Of course, you can only know the difference this hidden data can make if you bring it out into the open and actually use it. If you’re not doing it already, your company will almost certainly benefit from doing so and some of those benefits could be significant.

Oh yeah, just one other thing. All this hidden data I’m talking about is free once you’ve learned to access it.

It’s got to be worth a try.

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Find out how much poor collaboration is costing your business



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  • The key problems you have around collaboration 

  • How these problems show up in the business 
  • What impact these problems have, including financial costs 

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