Do Not Be Afraid of Data

Do Not Be Afraid of Data

To make changes, either on a personal or organizational level, you need to know what is going on. Which often means you need to get some data. But a number of individuals and organizations are uncomfortable with this idea. Why is that and what can be done to address it?

Do Not be Afraid of Data

Recently, several people who have called to discuss hiring me to coach someone in their organization or to work with one of their teams have balked when I told them the project would have a much greater chance for success if we began by gathering some data.

Why Get Data?

Let me back up here a bit. In order to successfully coach an individual or to move a team forward, the consultant needs to know what is going on. And the initial caller is rarely fully informed. It is not that the caller doesn’t have the organization’s best interests at heart or is out of touch. Rather, it’s that many of the issues that cause whatever problem the organization is facing are hidden and unspoken.

For example, people may say that they are irritated that the new computer system doesn’t work, but actually they are irritated that they were not consulted about the new system before it was put in place, and they think that the people in IT talk down to them. If you put a whole lot of energy into fixing the new system, but ignore the underlying issues because you are unaware of them, you are not going to solve anything.

How to Get Data?

So how to get the data? It’s actually incredibly simple. You (and by “you” I mean the consultant) talk to people. You just have to make sure to talk to the people who are closely involved, who represent all sides of the issue, and who are at all levels of seniority in the organization.

Okay, to be honest, you don’t actually have to talk to everyone. You can do a survey. However, surveys often don’t work as well as interviews for a variety of reasons. First, people interpret questions differently, even questions that you think are

completely clear. Second, you can’t dig into a new issue that crops up. Third, you can’t see someone’s body language, so you don’t know when to ask different questions. Fourth, people can be hesitant to put things into writing. And fifth, people often procrastinate responding to surveys until the last minute, so you don’t get their best thinking.

There are ways around the issues associated with surveys, but often they involve – you guessed it – going back and talking to people to clarify the survey results.

How the Data is Used

Now remember, data is not a report! This is a key point. The purpose of the data is to ensure that you and the person or people with whom you are working are pointed in the right direction so that they can have the conversations they need to have or make the changes they need to make. It is not to write up some fancy document with pretty fonts and charts and file it away.

Why Do People Balk?

People balk at the idea of gathering data for a number of reasons.

–  If someone is being coached, he or she might be concerned that interviewing his or her colleagues will send a message that “something is wrong” with that person.

–  It is not the cultural norm for some organizations. As mentioned, for the data to be useful, it needs to encompass all levels of seniority and some organizations “don’t do 360’s here.”

–  Management is concerned that the interviews will stir up issues, rather than air the issues that are already causing problems.

–  Some managers may be concerned that they will look less competent if they don’t know exactly what is going on with their team.


I am writing this a couple of hours before the start of the World Cup match between the United States and Germany, and I would just like to say that I am grateful that the U.S. team is willing to coach its individual players and help its players come together as a team. There are some concrete ways to address the above data gathering in organizations, which I will address in a subsequent newsletter. But in the interim, I hope you will think about this issue through the lens of a world class athlete, who can always improve, who needs to always be open to feedback from his team members, and whose managers can always use support and suggestions from others.




In addition to management consulting, conflict resolution, and executive coaching, I offer tailored programs on a variety of related topics, including how to delegate, communicate more effectively, deal with difficult people, manage conflict in the workplace, manage up, facilitate meetings, manage your career, and network.

Please let me know if there are other topics in which you are interested. If I don’t already have a program on that topic, I am happy to develop one that meets your needs.