Uncertainty and the value of real-time insight

uncertainty and real-time insights

Dr Grant Crow researched the role of transformational leadership in large scale change for his Doctorate in Business Administration and has worked with a number of complex organisations to advise on how to bridge the gap between strategy and execution of strategy.

Rather than dwelling on the context in which we find ourselves, this blog is focused on ways in which leaders and administrators can use real-time insight to get a good grip on current challenges and make the best possible decisions moving forward.

At the risk of over-simplification, I see two primary questions that require answers:

  • How do I get the right information at the right time to guide decision making?
  • Assuming I have the above, how do I turn our strategy into a plan that gets implemented?

For the first question, let’s take a look at the concepts of leading and lagging indicators or measures.

Lagging indicators

Lagging indicators are the things we traditionally measure. They’re easy to measure (one of the reasons we use them) and in most cases, they record a result post the fact.

An example of a lagging indicator might be “we plan our continuation rate to be 95% this year”. This is easy to measure. Once the dust has settled by October, we’ll know how we fared. Whatever we’ve measured has happened and we have no way of changing the result until next year.

Leading indicators

Leading indicators can be thought of as your early warning system. They’re dynamic, proactive and require real thought to get right.

In the context of the example above, a useful leading indicator might be “engagement levels of first year students in the final term”. This indicator could potentially be expanded to view and measure engagement by background, disability, faculty, or many others. Another may be a measured “intention to continue score”. By knowing these, you have an opportunity to identify problems AND take action before it’s too late. This is why leading indicators are so useful.

The role of real-time information

It may be worth reflecting on your balance of measures and ensuring you have some leading indicators in place for a good chance of making strong progress. As opposed to traditional lagging indicators, leading measures require real-time information.

If you’re measuring something with a view to taking proactive action, you need information about your progress now and it needs to be updated regularly. It’s not about one-off measurement; it has to be about ongoing measurement, so the trends are clear and the data more useful and compelling.

Real-time feedback also means that when you commit to an improvement action, you can see the impact of these actions early. In essence, this provides management with the ability to experiment and to try different approaches if the first envisaged course of action did not produce the desired results.

So, once you have your leading measures in place, your next step is to think about how you’ll get the real-time information you need. Ask yourself: are your current measurement mechanisms working and set up for ongoing, real-time measurement? Or do you need to consider a different way to collect the information you need when you need it?


Executing your strategy

This brings us to the point of turning an agreed strategy into a plan. It’s a BIG topic and one that has troubled many large, complex organisations as well as smaller ones. In most organisations, there is a fair-sized gap between intended strategy and what actually happens.

There is very little research available on the percentage of strategies that succeed and fail. However, it is generally thought that between 50% and 90% of all strategies fail. Does that surprise you? This highlights the strategy execution challenge.

Considerations for success

There are obviously many factors that impact on whether an intended strategy is realized. Let’s take the example of a strategy focused on building one community.

Some considerations will include:

  • Do you have the skills and resources to get this done? This is not purely about skills at a personal level, but at an organisational level as well.
  • Do you have any continuous improvement capability, mindset and process in place?
  • How do you manage projects across departments?
  • Do you have the will as a team?
  • Are there competing goals within the strategy?
  • Does your culture currently support the strategy and if not, what needs to change?
  • Do you have a plan to draw on the potential of our full community?
  • How do you know (referencing the leading indicators discussion) how you’re doing?
  • How do you ensure sufficient time to react if things are not moving in the right direction?

These are all reasonable issues to consider. Possibly the most impactful of all though relates to what happens on a day to day basis post finalisation of the strategy.

So, the strategy gets clearly communicated to all stakeholders and then what? How do you keep your faculties, departments and teams focused on their contribution to the strategy on an ongoing basis? If you can’t answer this question, you’re almost assured of being in the failure category when reviewing (post the fact) your progress.

If your plans are focused on connecting with students or building one community around the institution, this is where the Enlitened platform can help. Feel free to contact us if any of this resonates.

Download this infographic to see how COVID-19 has impacted on student perceptions of community and connectivity at their university. With insights collected from real-time data through the Enlitened platform, as well as suggestions from students themselves.