A college resident goes to the campus doctor and says he has a bad headache. The doctor asks the standard questions and concludes it’s a migraine and prescribes medication. Two days later, another student from the same dorm reports a severe headache too. The doctor makes some calls and learns that mid term exams are causing a lot of anxiety. A few more students report similar symptoms as well as some coughing - and all are given prescriptions. The doctor believes he’s found the cause and assures the college not to be concerned. What he doesn’t discover until it’s too late is that the headaches are the result of an outbreak of bacterial meningitis – a potentially fatal infection.
Sadly, this past week a Drexel University student died from meningitis spread through infected Princeton University students. Medical error is not to blame in her case, but the campuses are on high alert to ensure no further deaths occur due to a faulty diagnosis.
Businesses today suffer from a host of symptoms that too often lead to an incorrect diagnosis due to their growing allegiance to BIG DATA. With so many feedbacks loops available, companies can track every consumer profile, every market fluctuation, every ad penetration, and every competitor’s performance - in real time. With all this input (data), management believes it can predict the correct output (goods & services) and grow its business exponentially.
So why then do almost 50% of all businesses fold, or fail to meet projections. The answer: a wrong diagnosis.
Big Data is a quantitative summary of how well or how poorly a business is doing, an overview of performance. If the statistics are down, what do these numbers really tell you? They’re a set of symptoms – not causes. Big Data is not a true diagnostic tool. It can locate an area of low productivity, but it doesn’t answer the question “why?”
If they dug deeper, they might find that staff loyalty is low, that they lack a sincere motivation to work for the company. This shows up in poor retention levels - a sure sign of a business in trouble. Weak productivity can also spring from a culture of ‘business as usual’ that discourages innovation. New ideas for product development are routinely quashed in favor of sticking with the “tried and true” even when market share is dropping. Enforcing stiffer quotas and longer hours won’t fix the problem as it’s addressing the symptom, not the real cause.
A business in trouble is suffering from a systemic problem. Like a patient with a chronic fever, prescribing Big Data isn’t a substitute for discovering and handling the underlying cause if it is to recover. A diagnostic tool we devised and use in our work with companies is the Corporate Health Card.
This Card is an evaluation of the current state of wellness or sickness of an organization as measured by the strengths and weaknesses of its underlying pillars – motivation, innovation, and communication, among others. A poor grade in one or more of these pillars is a signal of a systemic problem within the company that requires a holistic solution, not a band-aid.
The Corporate Health Card identifies any weaknesses in the company – for example, poor motivation - and drills down to find the underlying cause of low morale, and lack of commitment to the company’s goals. Once uncovered, a proper program can be designed to restore the company to full health.
Like the doctor who gave a wrong diagnosis for a college dorm’s headaches, Big Data can provide a false cause for a company’s poor performance – with potentially catastrophic results.
Like the saying goes: ‘If you don’t have your health, you have nothing’. That’s so true for businesses that I’ll be writing more about the Corporate Health Card and its application in future postings.