Are you really looking at the right information to run your business?

Information in palm of hand

Today is “Grand National Day” in the UK. It is the time of year when millions of people with no experience in analysing horse racing place a bet. The Grand National Meeting in Aintree, Liverpool, is expected to receive £500m in bets this year. However, as Coral’s analysis of the last 20 races shows, most horses do not even finish the race. According to the betting firm, the Grand National is a “lottery”.

Despite this, though, millions of people gamble a few quid, hoping they will become millionaires. They choose horses based on whether they like the name, or perhaps they are attracted by the colours of the silks worn by the jockey. Either way, they make their decisions based on zero information. 

You wouldn’t do that in business, would you? Everyone in business is surrounded by information that helps them effectively run the organisation or their team.  You would think so, wouldn’t you? But you would be wrong. 

I watched this week’s episode of “The Apprentice” on TV the other evening. The contest is down to the final five candidates. That’s when they face a grilling from four of the toughest interviewers in the land. One of the finalists is the owner of a family pie shop business. It’s a successful company with five shops in the South of England and has won multiple prizes at the “British Pie Awards” (yes, there is such a thing…!).

However, when Claude Littner interviewed the pie shop owner, it became apparent that the shop was operating without information. The Apprentice candidate revealed that he had not seen any accounting information for the company for the previous six months. I know; it defeats logic that you can run a successful business employing people and have no financial information at your fingertips.

This young businessman,  though, is not the only person lacking information. Yesterday, at the ongoing inquiry into the Post Office in the UK, the former Chief Executive of Royal Mail, Adam Crozier, said he did not know his company was responsible for prosecuting hundreds of innocent Post Office workers. Similarly, the Managing Director of the Post Office, Alan Cook, said he was unaware that his company was prosecuting his own employees.

It is somewhat jaw-dropping that both of these individuals did not have access to information that was already in the public domain. Running a business surely requires the boss to be aware of all the relevant information. If you are not, how can you operate effectively and efficiently?

We live in a world surrounded by more information at our fingertips than at any previous time in history. Indeed, if you take yesterday as “history,” you will have more information available now than you did 24 hours ago. In 2019, the entire scope of human knowledge was predicted to be doubling every 12 hours. Who knows what it is now?  Whatever the truth, you have more information available to you than yesterday. But is it the right information to help you?

Without accurate financial information, the candidate on The Apprentice would probably have made many decisions based on educated guesswork. Similarly, as the CEO of Royal Mail, you could have made better decisions regarding your employees with the right information. 

Yesterday, I participated in a staff workshop during which we started to plan degree offerings for future students. It’s always difficult to do this because we have to make an educated guess as to what teenagers will want to do three years from now and try to work out what employers will need. It is never an easy task. However, this year, we had more relevant information at our fingertips, making our job much easier.

We can only effectively run our business if we have pertinent information. Rather than just accepting what we already have available, it is always worthwhile to ask if there is other material we still need. Viewing the situation from the perspective of “there could be more data” is a good place to start. It certainly helped us yesterday.

Whenever you think, “I have everything I need”, that ought to be a signal to look for more.  After all, if you run a hotel, you could be thinking that “everyone books online” and putting more money into your digital offering. But you would be wrong. The latest information on hotel bookings shows that almost half of people book the “old-fashioned” way without using digital systems. Without access to such information, a hotel business could easily make the wrong decision.

Without accurate, reliable and up-to-date information, running a business is guesswork. But are you absolutely sure you have the information you really need? If you place a bet on the Grand National today, please base your choice on reliable information rather than guesswork. Ooops…! What have I done?

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