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Guess Again

How many times during the day do you guess?  You probably do it more than you think.  I’ll bet you guess when it’s time to leave for work in the morning, or you guess when it’s lunchtime.  At lunch, you guess that the person behind the counter is probably much younger than you are.  You’re probably guessing right now that this blog is about snap judgments and intuition.

Guessing is, for many people, good, clean fun.  You guess the names of celebrities or the age of your friend’s date. You guess about the price of the new car your co-worker drives, or the cost of the clothes she wears.  You participate in guessing games at parties, and tease your spouse to guess “what’s behind my back”.  Guessing is like a contest – pitting your judgment against an unknown in order to test how smart you are.

But there’s a downside to guessing.  No, not by being socially incorrect, but by putting your business at risk.  When you make decisions by “shooting from the hip” rather than parsing through the data, you put your business at risk by working from false assumptions or general impressions.

At a time when collecting information (i.e. data) is easier than ever, small businesses are at risk for either 1) not collecting business data or 2) letting the data that is collected languish in data storage.  Excuses vary – you’re too busy to analyze the data, the data aren’t complete, or you’re not sure what the data mean.  But successful businesses take the time to not only collect whatever data they deem important, but to base decisions on that data.  At Google, they measure EVERYTHING, including how much in the way of snack foods, their employees consume at work.

“Data can be a way at getting to the truth. When people talk about data, it becomes an abstract of terabytes of information. But really, it’s just facts; numbers that describe a reality,” says Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of the group overseeing most of Google’s human resource issues.  We apply the same level of rigor, analysis and experimentation on people as we do the tech side,” said Jennifer Kurkoski, a PhD in organizational behavior and a member of Google’s HR team.[i]

At NIST MEP, we’re data-believers.  And we’re working on technology tools for small manufacturers to help them become believers too.  One tool we’re creating is SMARTalent.  SMARTalent is a cloud-based talent management system that collects data on workforce investments and analyzes them against other business strategies and investments.  We’re hoping that the data small & medium sized manufactures (SMMs) collect will help them make better workforce decisions and solve skills gaps.  The SMARTalent tool will be ready to test in fall 2013 and roll out in 2014.  In the meantime, we hope that small manufacturers think about their workforce investments and begin to assemble processes to collect information on things such as hiring, turnover, organizational culture, the use of team-based or cell-based work, training and professional development, documentation of competencies, and how these actions align with business strategies.

When this data becomes readily available to SMMs, they’ll be able to make more fact-based decisions on who to hire, when, and the value of that hire over time.  It’s not as delicious as measuring snack consumption, but it’s good for the business AND calorie-free.

[i] Kang, Cecilia. Google Crunches Data on Munching in Office.  The Washington Post. September 1, 2013.

About the author

Stacey Wagner

Guest blogger Stacey Jarrett Wagner has more than 20 years of experience in workforce development, conducting research and providing strategic thinking and technical assistance on workforce development issues.

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SMARTalent is a great idea! I would be curious to see the numbers of our company as well as larger corporations. I will follow along to see how the technology develops.
Data analysis has become big business. Tools are basically turning data into information that companies can use to become better and more efficient. It looks like SMARTalent is one of the tools that could be used.

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