You have heard the cliche, what can be measured can be improved. I remember a meeting with a manager early in my career in which he asked me why we hadn't hit our revenue goals for the first quarter of that year. I think I mumbled some random answers. He asked me for the reports. Reports? What Reports? This manager (the best person I have ever worked for) taught me an important lesson that day. While it takes time and energy to make and read reports there is no substitute for real hard data. I have taken that to heart and have found that I've more recently become obsessive compulsive about tracking everything. Here are some core principles of getting the data needed to make decisions.
Don't Reinvent the Wheel
Do you know anyone who you work with that feels the need to take the report or information they get and redo the report into a format they prefer? Sometimes you can save time and energy by learning and adapting yourself to take and learn from the data in the format you receive it.
Consider the Tools Wisely and Know Them Well
Use the right tools for the task. I'm a raving fan of Microsoft Excel but it isn't the best tool for everything. In many cases there are specific tools for what you may be doing. I use very category specific tools to track my car gas mileage and maintenance, my weight, my exercise, my health, my shopping list, my website traffic, my finances and budget, my reading, and more. Whatever the tool you choose make sure you are fully proficient with it. Excel is an amazing option for many types of reporting because of the ability to create various reports from a single data set but without a great understanding of how to use it, it really can't do you much good.
Don't Forget the Natural Feedback
Sometimes the information you need is right in front of you. Life has a way of providing a lot of natural feedback. Look at your environment, your results, and the people who surround you. Is the answer to your question staring you in the face? If not how can you get it? Some of the best information I've had has come from people who were sincere and caring enough to give me feedback. Develop relationships of trust with people around you so that when you need some helpful feedback you will be ready to ask for it and receive it to heart. I recently heard the quote; “When performance is measured it is improved. When performance is reported the rate of improvement increases.”