The pussy cat stares into the puddle and sees a lion

“Big data” discussions, particularly in HR and OD circles, sometimes appear to overlook the fact that assessment and development centres were early, and successful, attempts to bring together data from a range of sources for organisational and/or individual planning purposes. Today, downward cost pressures may lead to organisations questioning whether they can afford such physical “centres” (though the evidence of value, admittedly from test publishers, has largely been persuasive).

The truth is, of course, that organisations typically are awash with valuable data about people that could be used to achieve higher gains – if it were combined effectively. Let’s take, as an example, the data about leaders and senior managers amassed through the use 360° feedback. Usually, if not invariably, the process, the facilitated review of the results and the associated development planning activities are all designed to place the focus on individual development. There is either an implied or an explicit “contract” with the leader seeking feedback that might appear to limit what can be done with the collected data.

However, suitably stripped of individual identifiers, a significant mass of feedback data can serve organisational as well as individual development goals – and not compromise that “contract”. In this region or that business unit is there evidence that feedback providers perceive that today’s and tomorrow’s required - and brand aligned - behaviours are being demonstrated by their leaders?

Combined with other data, the perceptions and feedback of others can extend value considerably. In coaching, for example, taking time to consider behavioural preferences (illuminated through the use of Insights Discovery or the Myers Briggs Type Indicator) alongside feedback from others can help to explain not just what others observe, and comment on, but the relationship between this and individually preferred behaviours.

More powerfully still, data mapping for an intact team that pays attention to wider staff engagement data, perceptions of the leadership’s communication effectiveness and the leader's decision taking styles can pinpoint change options for the team itself. In practice, the extent to which a leadership team may be aware of and have discussed their member’s preferences often varies. The impact of senior leader’s behavioural preferences on decision taking processes, change leadership and business outcomes, their ability to anticipate and manage conflict and their own communication effectiveness, for example, also varies considerably. The need for great facilitation and coaching is evident.

One thing is certain, a good proportion of many leadership teams will only take notice of these challenges when the available “big data” is brought together to provoke a compelling case for change.

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