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If data is the “new oil” of industry, what does that make your people?

What can we learn from the use of data during the COVID-19 crisis.
people walking in a corridor blurred
| Robert Hobbs | Performance

We often visit CEO’s, Heads of Transformation, culture “experts” and performance leads, to talk about transformation and performance improvement. We often hear data is the new golden bullet that will help them be smarter, do a better job, drive more revenue or provide a better service.

Organisations will spend in some cases many millions of pounds, euros or dollars setting up data warehouses, data cleansing, data analysis and data mining systems. Data seems to have become the wonder drug that people believe will transform their businesses overnight.

And you can see the attraction. For some we’ve seen data, particularly at large scale, enable a business to identify a gap and fill it (think for example of insurance companies who now seem to know your inside leg measurement, what you had for breakfast and if that means they can charge you more to insure your Renault Clio). Data is helping many companies predict their most likely outturn performance earlier, and possibly change direction if and when they need to.

But when we talk to the day to day manager, the head of a service, the front line staff, we realise the data isn’t frequently enough being cascaded into activity and it’s not having the day to day impact everyone thought it might.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I LOVE data and what it can do for business (even if I do think there are much better and cheaper ways to get access to it nowadays, especially for SME’s than data warehouses, data lakes or puddles or whatever jargon we hear next). A degree in statistics kicked off my career in generating amazing fact-based business storytelling. BUT and this is a BIG but, data is a tool – it is a tool for PEOPLE to use. It’s a tool to help guide OUR next best actions and it’s only useful IF you can do something about it.

So, what’s the blocker?

Why aren’t we seeing thousands of staff re-aligning their day to day activity to achieve better outcomes through their use of so much more data?

Why are we not seeing rafts of decisive actions every day driving the economy better than ever, improving the environment successfully, achieving social care improvements, reducing inequality, improving lives as a result of all of this the data?

Is data really a golden bullet to drive improvement?

What COVID-19 has shown us, more than at any other time in the last 50 years, is that focused people can and will do amazing things.

If you said to me a year ago that the NHS could build a hospital in days it would be laughable, yet here we are with 7 being built to support 10,000+ patients and what’s more, each hospital is actually fit for purpose.

When talking to headmasters, they say they have achieved in 2-3 weeks what they were thinking about trying to achieve over 2-3 years in the use of technology platforms for learning.

For over 80% of office workers to have been moved, overnight, to working from home, would not have been on even the most optimistic Zoom executive’s business wish lists, yet the whole country, indeed the whole of Europe and beyond have done it.

The ‘Nightingale Effect’ as I call it, referring to all these wondrous achievements, is one worth looking at as we prepare to recover and rebuild our organisations, businesses, economies and societies in the second half of 2020 and beyond.

In the face of the virus, we have seen the incredible achieved at pace. In the aftermath, how can we leverage lessons learnt to be more successful?

What can we learn from the Nightingale effect?

LEARNING # ONE: Clear Purpose and focus

Purpose and Direction

Simply, we’re in it together!! Clarity of purpose is about creating a well-articulated and communicated, common understanding of the situation and the goals that we want to achieve that everyone can buy into.

It's getting teams of people all strategically aligned in a unified direction, working to streamlined goals and focused on the end result. Teams can do incredible things when they really focus on what matters.

Just remember to do that you also need to...

Cut out the wasted effort

Make sure that the actions that need to get done, get done. Cut out the rest.

Have you seen the pictures of A&E recently – basically empty! We are all staying at home, we are freeing up critical NHS resources, so those doctors, nurses, porters, radiographers and indeed every critical care resource, in turn, can focus on saving lives. If they were still wasting time on non-urgent cases, we’d have a higher COVID death rate.

Your business will want to do the same. What’s your imperative? What do you want to be famous for? Whatever it is that REALLY matters - deliver that, park everything else until that is really working well.. then occasionally build on the nice to haves.

LEARNING # TWO: People should be and can be empowered and valued


During this crisis, devolved decision making has become more wide-spread. A lengthy process of up-and-down command chain decision-making creates a drag on progress that more trust and empowerment enables the organisation to overcome, and as a result achieve much more in a much shorter period of time.

Share and Use INFORMATION and data

Argh, I hear you say… we’ve gone full circle back to the data – yes I agree with you… a bit. But actually its MUCH more than just data! What people need to be empowered and make a decision is MORE THAN numbers. They need context, prioritisation, history of what actions were already tried, their relative success, benchmarking, sharing over a wide area with like-minded people doing similar things. We are all realising that the role of the manager to make a critical, effective, developed decision needs WAY more than just more data.

Empathy and caring

People need empathy and understanding, to feel valued. If they feel valued they will want to contribute. If you don’t care about YOUR TEAMS, why should they care about you? It's clear productivity has to do with a sense of place and value. Just consider, if each member of your team increased their productivity by just 5% because they felt valued, trusted and engaged what would be the overall gain for the organisation?

The dramatic rise in home working will require new technology to facilitate nurturing and caring about your employees. We will see Wellness portals, ‘virtual drop-ins’ at the watercooler, built-in reminders and AI to pick up on disengaged employees with clear signposting on what to do next, you will need a workplace platform for your business that automates as much of this for you as possible.

Traditional HR systems are dead! Look for HR re-invented such as OKR software, goals focused, collaboration environments, something to engage everyone no matter their age (we’ll forgive the millennials now 😉), job function or time contribution. Find software that is motivational, and engaging. Chuck out the dreaded annual review and 360 review form and get people feeling like you’re going to enable them to be the very best versions of themselves they can be.

LEARNING # THREE: Get it done and celebrate success

Define and Celebrate success

In 2016 a £24 million healthcare facility costing taxpayers £100,000 a month stood empty because of political disagreements over what the building should be used for AFTER it was built.

There is no sense of success when you’ve worked 12 hours days to bring better healthcare to the people of Manchester and then your new facility gets turned into offices.

Events like this quite literally vacuum enthusiasm for achieving great things out of your teams and you can visibly see effort reduce come the next project. Define your success criteria and drive relentlessly to make sure they are delivered.

Remember success might be on an individual scale – not just a project or business-wide. Find a way to make each member of the team realise their contribution and see how fab they all are! You know they are worth it.

No one can fail to be impressed by what key workers have achieved in these past few weeks.

Every one of us that has socially distanced, has stayed at home, and curtailed our social lives has succeeded in slowing down the virus, protecting our NHS capacity and saved lives.

Yet despite the successes have there also been significant failures? Inadequate enforcement of health regulations in China? Too slow and too little a response by WHO? Insufficient preparedness despite identifying the severity of the risk by governments? Failure to build stocks into distribution hubs? Failure to build resilience into supply chains? Too much hope that ‘the worst’ won’t happen? (Note to self, even the worst can and will sometime happen).

So our 4th and final lesson is what we could do better.

LEARNING # FOUR: Change risk and resilience management

What are the serious risks to our organisations, to the economy, the environment, to our daily actions? How can we stop them before they happen, mitigate them faster, respond better?

Risk and Continuity should be better planned and whatever can be automated, should be automated.

Risk Management currently sucks!

That sounds pretty odd coming from a guy that provides risk software.

Tomorrow’s environment for risk and continuity planning should be more relatable, more engaging, more real-time and drive more appropriate instant action from everyone when something happens.

A shorter time interval is required, between identification of an issue and control action. We need improved triangulation of information from multiple systems, automated notifications, and automated sets of pre-established actions routed to the right person.

Yes, this means we need to pre-plan for events and scenarios.

And this means more thinking, by more people, about risks, more of the time.

The strategic and systemic risks, the organisation-wide risks, the department and team risk to achieving their goals, and the daily individual task achievement risks.

But PLEASE - a risk matrix of impact and probability with a linked document that a risk committee reviews annually or quarterly can’t be the best we can do, it certainly isn’t what you really need in the time of a crisis – even a little one.

Risk and resilience should be a fully integrated, easy to understand, RELATABLE process for everyone – not just for a lonely risk manager who everyone groans at when they annually come around asking for a list of risks and chasing for an impact and likelihood rating!

Oh and if you want to use data to work out the likelihood that a risk might occur again, I reckon that’s a great thing, but please don’t create a pricey Datawarehouse to do it – there are better ways!

So, what is my key message for you today? If the current crisis and the Nightingale effect teaches us anything, it’s that people are your greatest asset. If you want to make a real performance change, next time I visit, ask how we can connect your people with your information (including data), with their personal well-being, training and overall engagement with your business, no matter where or when they work and help them focus on getting the actions done that must get done.

Robert Hobbs

Chief Executive Officer

InPhase’s Chief Executive and Founder, Robert has been the visionary leading InPhase to be one of the UK's leading providers of management, governance and assurance solutions, and helping organisations align their actions and goals more easily and efficiently with InPhase's suite of integrated apps.

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