Growing up in Warren County, I gave directions by landmarks. I was 17 when a friend from Roanoke Rapids said, “So you turn at the big oak tree after the house that looks like a church, but what’s the name of the street?” Until this conversation, I gave directions as they were familiar to me and my eyes. The problem with providing directions in this manner is that things don’t always look the same to people and landmarks change. 

Believe it or not, I’m using this anecdote to begin a discussion on data and how performance measurement can be used to provide directions for a business or organization. 

My journey into data tracking and analysis began two years ago at NYU. Before, I looked at numbers in terms of my bank account or my students’ grades, but I never really collected data and tracked outcomes in an effort to improve performance. This lack of data usage stemmed from a mixture of not knowing why I should or how I should. My program mandated that I take a performance measurement and management class to learn how to collect data and then interpret that data to develop strategies and assess performance. My job in NYC government also heavily relied on data to show performance results and assess gaps and trends. Between work and school, I drank the data Kool-Aid.

For the sake of the directions analogy I started with above, think about giving landmark directions as assessing businesses without data. A business that just assumes they know how things look and how others perceive the business (“landmarks”) is not optimizing programs and services. Performance measurement and subsequent management is concrete. As they say, numbers don’t lie. This is analogous to concrete directions based on street names and cardinal directions. Your business needs a direction that is not based on someone’s perception.

Programs and businesses track data for several reasons, including: to determine efficiency and success of services, to establish accountability, to develop and justify budgets, and to assure equity. A big part of my collecting more data at the Chamber is my needing to know what my membership base looks like in terms of numbers and not perception. What kinds of businesses and business owners are we missing? Is our membership reflective of the county’s diversity?

Even if a business is collecting data, a major mistake it can make is spending time and resources to collect, but neglecting to analyze and develop management practices based on results. What’s the point in collecting data if you aren’t going to use it to develop programs and services?

To use the Chamber as an example, one thing we’ve noticed is an extremely low rate of young entrepreneurs in our membership. Therefore, we’re introducing a discounted rate for young entrepreneurs in their first year; we’re also developing a Young Professionals Network in partnership with the Lake Gaston Regional Chamber. 

I encourage all businesses, nonprofits, civic organizations, churches, etc. to look at how they provide direction as an organization. Are your directions based on perceived landmarks or concrete facts? Let’s make sure we’re employing tools that help make informed decisions.  

Chamber Connections is a monthly column by The Chamber of Commerce of Warren County.