3 ways to use data to make better decisions

3 ways to use data to make better decisions
January 13, 2015

Making big decisions for your company is tough. As corporate transparency puts a spotlight on every move, leaders are under more pressure than ever to make the right choices for their organizations. Business reporting plays a big role in decision-making, but how do you ensure the process you're using to make those decisions is effective?

Observing what your peers are doing is one way to get a grasp on whether or not your process is working. By talking with them about how they make important business decisions, you may be able to glean insights into how you can make smarter choices.

Another way is to look at the data you have at your fingertips. What is it telling you? By analyzing it more closely, you’ll be able to see patterns and stories that can help guide your next steps.

At Workiva, we’ve spent years looking at the way successful organizations make decisions. And while every company is unique, here are a few things we’ve learned about how to make good decisions.

  1. Start with good data
    It doesn’t matter what type of business you’re in: data matters. Every company must put together reports on a regular basis. Depending on your organization, you have access to information contained in reports, such as:

    • SEC reports
    • Performance management reports
    • Sustainability reports
    • Governance, compliance, and risk reports

    Clean, timely, and accurate data—structured or unstructured—can be the difference between decisions based on real insights and ones that are more about gut feel. Knowing what is truly happening in your organization is key to knowing how to take the next step.

  2. Analyze the data for important insights
    You’ve gathered your data—now what? It’s time to dive in and look for trends and patterns. Often, they tell a story that’s worth listening to. Be sure not to do it alone—collaborate with your team to combine your findings and get different perspectives. Often, a pair of fresh eyes can spot discrepancies or add data points that were missed by others.

  3. Develop a story to help determine the next step
    Once you’ve worked with your team to analyze the data, it’s time to show off your discoveries. Together, your data and analysis make a story showing past, current, and future vignettes. You’ll be able to get a clear picture of how you’ve gotten to the place you are now and where your company is headed in the future.
    This story will inform whatever decision you need to make, giving you a powerful framework to help guide your next steps.
It’s easier than you think
In the past, creating reports from data relied on labor intensive and error prone steps, but it doesn’t have to be that way anymore. Automated tools for data, analysis, and storytelling will help you make the best decisions for your business without spending weeks doing it. The right application can speed up the process and help to ensure that nothing slips through the cracks along the way.

As you become more fluent in this approach, it will become easier. You’ll organize and analyze your data to create a map for your company, your workers, and yourself. You’ll collaborate with others on your team to get their perspectives for a whole-picture view. And you’ll be able to make those big decisions with confidence.

Ready to take the next step? Learn more about how data plays a role in decision-making here.

Mike Sellberg

About the author

Mike Sellberg is Executive Vice President and Chief Product Officer at Workiva. He is the former EVP and CTO at iMed Studios and the former Divisional General Manager at Engineering Animation, Inc.