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Data Leadership in Times of Crisis

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During this time of turbulence and uncertainty, as the world is learning how to best handle the pandemic situation, CEO and Founder of Algmin Data Leadership, Anthony J. Algmin shares his thoughts on the role of data leadership in this time of crisis.

The nature of fear often traces back to a lack of information. Usually, by gathering data to learn more about a situation, we can build confidence until we are ready to act. This is what business leaders do all the time: we do not wait until we have all the information, but we make the best decision we can once we have compiled enough to be confident that we are probably doing the right thing. 

Leaders must act with imperfect information all the time, showing a willingness to change course as new data becomes available. This serves us well, and helps our businesses thrive. But in times of crisis, this process can short-circuit. Let’s look at the current Coronavirus situation as an example:

  • The stakes are incredibly high for our businesses and all of us as individuals: literally life and death. If we do the wrong thing, people can die. If we do a different wrong thing, our businesses might not survive. We want to find the answers that avoid human consequences at all costs, while giving our businesses the best long-term outcomes.
  • The available data is far from what we would like to know: testing shortages limit our situational awareness and things are evolving so rapidly that our ability to process the data we have and drive productive actions is limited.
  • Taking no action is clearly not the right approach: most of the time, we have the luxury of waiting for more information before acting. “Doing nothing” is usually better than “doing something wrong” – but right now, doing nothing different is likely the worst thing we can do.
  • Our best is not good enough: we simply cannot get to the confidence we need to make the decisions, to take the actions, to drive the most desirable outcomes. If we find ourselves checking the news every 10 minutes for the latest information, this is a sign that our normal processes are short-circuiting. We are wired to keep searching for data, but the data is not going to be there.
  • Finding and analyzing data only gets us part of the way. It is only through data-driven actions where value gets created. This is a key data leadership principle: when data is insufficient for what we want to do with it, we are wasting energy analyzing it – driving costs but with nothing real to show for it.

We are currently flying somewhat blind – and despite our wishes to be data-driven, we simply cannot make it happen. With the Coronavirus specifically, I wish I could provide a better answer. The best thing to do is listen to our conscience and take care of our people, our customers, our vendors, and our families to the best of our ability. If we stop supporting the people relying on us, we will be hastening their inability to take care of those relying on them. 

These things are most pronounced in the extremes but are also important with everyday strategy and operations. It’s understandable that imperfect or incomplete information may result in unintended outcomes we can’t control — but we need to make sure we aren’t amplifying the likelihood of making bad decisions through poor processes, which we can control. 

When we do have all the data we need, but we still fail to put it to productive use, it is entirely our own fault. It is no secret that data-driven companies are out-competing those that have not yet figured it out. Data-driven companies are going to be better prepared to adjust to new information, no matter the circumstances. 

We will make it through the current Coronavirus crisis, but it remains to be seen how long or how lasting the challenges will be. As we get back to “normal,” we must all be sure to learn from this experience.

Go make an impact!


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