Acumen Partners Articles

Becoming a Data-Driven Organization


Becoming a Data-Driven Organization

Human beings collect data points from the day they are born. As they grow and experience more things, they put those data points into a context. Every human considers those data points and the corresponding context to guide their next steps. This is of tremendous value when you’re considering decisions like banging your head against the wall. (Example: “Do I have enough data points to know that I will get a headache? I do! Let’s NOT do that,” thinks my learned 5-year old. “HUH?” says my curious 4-year old, followed by a very surprised, “Ow!” He needs more data points.) 

There is a big difference, however, when we are talking about decisions that impact the health and welfare of our business. The best decisions come as a result of starting with the data and then identifying the context.

How many times a week do you hear thoughts or phrases like these being tossed about the workplace?

“Our customers appreciate it when we…”

“Last time we tried THAT, it didn’t work.”

“In my experience, …”

Sound familiar? Take note. These are easy phrases to dismiss as throw-away lines. But the truth is, these all-too-common conversation starters are dangerous when they become integral parts of the decision-making process in an organization. Why? Because they sound valid and true. Who argues with believable vagueness? What these three simple phrases have in common is that they suggest data authority (a customer feedback survey, a ROI evaluation, years of experience) without actually being data points that you can use or analyze.

What is a data-driven organization?

It’s much easier to profess a “data-driven” approach to business than it is to truly be a data-driven organization. This is because data is as much about the culture as it is about the numbers. A data-driven organization is the embodiment of a data culture, a place where data collection, its quality, metrics and analytics are fully integrated into the firm’s DNA. Organizations like these use data prescriptively and predictively to drive business decisions (big and small), and those data points and decisions have a direct impact on their business.

How do you know if your firm is data-driven or simply paying homage to the concept? Consider the following questions:

  • Does your workplace invite dissent? Do team members routinely ask good questions and engage in healthy debate?
  • Do people from all levels and departments within the organization have the skills, access and expertise to pull insights from data?
  • Do you start meetings with data gathered or thoughts from participants on the problems at hand?
  • Do formal presentations reference reviewable data? Who reviews that data?
  • Do you measure the results of your decisions? What do the analytics look like? Do you routinely create new data points from your results?
  • Do different parts of the business openly share and leverage common data? Do you look for ways to improve your data sets as a primary activity of the firm?

If you can answer affirmatively to most of the questions, chances are you’re working for a data-driven firm; and that bodes well for the long-term. If you find your mind wandering looking for times or individuals who embody these traits, chances are you’ve got the raw materials for becoming a data-driven firm but you’re not fully there yet.

That’s okay. There are steps you can take to become more fully informed before making decisions and/or changes. Acumen Partners is a data-driven firm. We teach and help our clients to make data-driven decisions. Clients often come to us with specific challenges (declining sales, new leadership, employee turnover). It is through looking at the entire picture, from a data expert’s point-of-view, that we can provide you with the direction you need to succeed. We opt to offer our opinions sparingly if at all, rather, we rely on the multiple data points to guide our client conversations.

Top Asks

The US K12 market is experiencing an unprecedented phase of change. Understanding these dynamics and measuring a firm’s ability to adjust its value proposition, pivot its strategy, or in some cases, simply survive the tumultuous landscape are the biggest questions we face. Businesses today often approach us to provide a third-party outsider’s look at their business. Acumen has no “skin in the game”; we bring data before context because it’s the data that matters. This detached mindset allows us to help firms accomplish goals and changes they might often struggle with on their own.

A data-driven, data-first approach allows us to aid firms in making better decisions in every area. Our propriety Data Slice™ tool enables us to:

  • Benchmark a firm’s current position on hundreds of variables.
  • Identify new markets for products and services or access the best tangential opportunities for growth.
  • Create detailed buyer personae and offer detailed knowledge about the pains and gains shared by prospective customers.
  • Understand the true financial value of a market opportunity, and in the case of K12, determine where those funds will likely come from.
  • Value the firm and/or create an internal succession plan that is fair and unbiased.
  • Define whether the time is right for the firm to re-invest or to consider a market exit.

What big decisions is your firm facing in the coming quarter? Acumen Partners is eager to help you dig into the data, fully understand the choices in front of you, and ultimately, empower you to make the most informed and profitable changes.

Action Steps and Mind Shifts

We agree… data-driven is the way to go. Here are a few things you can do and few ideas you can embrace to begin the process of change.

  1. A data-driven organization is only as good as its weakest link; it’s also as close as its biggest advocate. While you can’t change a culture overnight, you can lead by example. So when you’re proposing a solution, report your findings before you share your thoughts. And back your own points with measurable figures. Then ask for alternate interpretations on the data you’ve shared from colleagues and peers. Make the dialogue about the data not the experience in the room.
  2. Don’t be afraid to know where you stand right now. Your organization might be on the right track; your organization may be struggling to find its footing. Either way, it’s okay. You have to know where you are today, before you can plot a new course or be sure that the one you’re already on is the correct one. Benchmarking is your friend and the key to making the right moves at the right time for the right purpose.
  3. Measure, measure, measure. We make all kinds of decisions every single day. Some of them are inconsequential (sandwich or salad for lunch?). Others have much bigger implications with ripple effects. We research major decisions as a matter of course, but do we measure them objectively? Do we begin with the intent of measuring them objectively or do we do that as an afterthought? If you begin each decision with the measure in mind, you’ll be collecting new and valid data points for your next big decision.


Go ahead. Collect your data. Apply your context. In that order. And keep in mind that there is a big difference between “Ice cream is good. I’m going to eat ice cream” and “Ice cream is good – let’s start an ice cream company.” Business decisions rely heavily on our experiences, but that experience is merely the context. It is not, in fact, the data. Making decisions through context leads to at least two very dangerous business propositions: tunnel vision and proving things true simply because you want them to be so.

Smart organizations invite opposing points of view to test their assumptions. They make decisions and then measure them; they report those results without fear of failure or ridicule. They accept the notion that what they can prove matters more than what they believe, and they welcome the learning. By embracing the data you can help your firm be more productive, more profitable and more competitive in the market place. Sounds like a win to me.

Ellen RuaneBecoming a Data-Driven Organization

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