An Obvious Opportunity in Business Management
The 3rd Revolution of Workplace Automation will not only include the physical space through increased use of robotics but the business administrative space too. The majority of management jobs involve making reports and aggregating data manually. Ideally, management should be grounded in maintaining relationships, monitoring team progress through data capture and anecdotes, and inspiring others to move in a new direction in line with the business needs. However the reality is different, most managers spend excessive amounts of time accomplishing administrative work that mainly involves moving data from one source to a new format to present it in a different manner. This data gathering methodology will always put a positive spin on how well a team or department is functioning. Successful managers in the future will leverage software tools that automate data gathering so they can accomplish their real goals as a manager and not just be a human conduit for moving and manipulating data.
This will be a 2 part series; the first will define the flaws in the current reporting methodology and the second article will focus on a potential solution to that problem.
The financial balance sheet is a report used by every business. While the balance sheets are often manipulated for public presentation to align with the business strategy, when internally used, business leadership can get a true sense of their business health. However, the balance sheet is only a scorecard of the present and past. It can show you that your business is doing well or is in trouble, but you may be unable to discern the “why” behind the results.
As a preventive measure, business reviews are used and are important to senior leaders so they can get a glimpse into their organization that they are unable to see themselves. Unlike a financial balance sheet, business reviews report on a variety of key performance indicators or metrics to monitor business performance and not just a currency. Metrics such as employee engagement, labor hours, performance, etc are all different variations that may be reported so it is not as easy as financial reporting but rather much more difficult and this is why these reports are to this day still accomplished manually usually compiled with a word processor.
One reason why these business reviews are difficult to automate is that unlike a balance sheet, which is purely quantitative, business metrics tend to vary in their type qualitative and quantitative significance. It is the more qualitative datatypes that are most open to manipulation. Because these qualitative metrics flow from employee to the top of the organization, they can be manipulated by the employee, manager and senior manager when they are left to compile and report on the data.
Managers take data from a source and “manipulate” the data to place it in the report. Manipulate is a key term to understand in this environment, this manipulation is typically biased to illustrate a better reality than the real reality. There are two flawed influences that make this reporting methodology inaccurate, one is that the referenced data is often poor and unreliable and the other is manager bias; managers that want their team to be positively reflected and will do everything they can to make the data tell the story that things are better than reality.
The first flaw that many businesses make is that they reference data from antiquated, difficult to use software systems that are not focused on the user. These systems in many cases require someone to sit down and fill out forms either digitally or by paper. Employees fill out these forms after a job or after a shift; the more complex it is for the employee the less the system is used in real-time. Any delay implicitly makes the data less reliable over time. Senior managers and their bosses are oblivious to this unreliable data because they do use these systems. The systems are not used either by choice, because there is a learning curve, or because they are layers removed for the use case.
The human brain has three levels of data retention: Sensory, Working and Longterm. Sensory memories only last for a couple seconds, while working memories may last for a couple of minutes. Longterm memories require a conscious effort for an individual to retain. It is in this transition from Working memory to Longterm memory where the true data is lost. Since most data capture systems are unintuitive, require effort, time and patience to use, the act of using the software takes the users out of the moment and therefore employees tend to wait until the end of their shift to accomplish the administrative work as to not impact the productivity of the work they are accomplishing. However, it is in this gap between actual work and recording of the work that the accuracy of the data suffers because of the transition from Working to Longterm memory. When this data is finally recorded it is likely the results are embellished to the side that benefits the employees, ie. longer hours worked than reality, etc.
Manager bias is another flaw that skews results in a given business review document. While few managers will outright lie about their team’s results, they will use any logical means to present their data in a more positive light. For example, they may remove outlier data. If a certain metric is not meeting the stated goal, a resourceful manager will look at key data points that “should be” removed and then create justification for their removal. In the end, this justification is allowing them to show their team is performing better than reality, but the metric has been skewed and takes an astute senior manager to comprehend these changes. Senior managers do not have enough bandwidth to perform their own data analysis which is why they rely on their management teams to perform this task. The senior managers will then perform this same action when reporting to their director, vice president, etc. By the time the top of the hierarchy is reached, the data does not accurately show the reality that exists and only shows the presented reality. The risk is that there could be latent issues brewing that are obscured through the manipulation.
It isn't a stretch to see there are some opportunities that can help improve business operations. The idea of what it means to be a manager must change. Today’s computing power is focused on managers accomplishing the same exact process they did in the 1970’s; they take data from one source, manipulate and republish in a new format that their boss wants to see. The manager of the future will find ways to automate the data gathering so they can monitor their team’s progress and more importantly be available to support that team. Most people dislike their manager and this leads to an undesirable work environment. Creating a different business management reporting cycle that pushes managers to support their team instead of aggregate data is a laudable goal. Technologies such as no-code platforms will drive an important role to help managers reach this goal.
The next part in this 2 part series will attempt to define a possible solution to this problem of business reporting. Automation and the No-Code platform movement will play a distinct role in how managers manage in the future.