For business leaders, the task of business decision-making is becoming more daunting. In tandem with our increasingly connected world, the challenges they face today have become more complex as a result of information explosion. New issues have also arisen – climate change, energy policy, advancements in technology — that are increasingly pressing and industry-agnostic.
At the same time, consumer expectations are rising, driven by greater awareness, online connectivity and increased competition. Customers of today have raised the bar on what “timely” means. Where they were once impressed with a three-day turnaround, they have now come to expect replies within the day, or even in real-time. This has effectively shortened the window to make decisions before responding to customer needs.
Leaders are now grappling with more demanding customer expectations and how to balance the time to decision with ever-increasing volume of data to sift through. A.S. Watson Group (ASW), the world’s largest international health and beauty retailer that serves over 4 billion customers annually, faces this exact challenge. Operating in the fast-moving retail industry, ASW needs to be able to make quick decisions to inform their business strategy and stay competitive.
Better decision-making needs inclusion
However, the bulk of decision-making tends to fall on a select few and this is where timeliness to act gets hampered. This hierarchical model for decision-making also leads to hoarding of data which is likely locked in folders, accessible only to select decision-makers. This may be more pronounced in businesses in Asia, where traditional hierarchical structures are still present.
When this happens, organizations often suffer from narrow-mindedness and inefficiencies. They start to adopt a bureaucratic structure, working in communication silos and failing to collaborate across departments. Leaders get tunnel-vision from only having limited perspectives, and the red tape can cause roadblocks that slow innovation and prevent meaningful work from getting done.
With the complexity and urgency that today’s business decision-making demands, leaders cannot fall into the trap of using old tricks to deal with new problems. They need to look above and beyond what they are conventionally used to.
The good news is, they don’t have to look far. Typically, the most ingenious solutions to an organization’s problem come from within, and decisions are made better and faster by being inclusive and encompassing diverse perspectives across the organization.
Empowering the workforce with a common language
Data is clearly the common language that can break down silos within an organization and even unhealthy power dynamics. When people are presented with the same information and base decision-making on these, ambiguity is taken out of the picture. Businesses can then focus on discussing solutions brought to the table rather than question the basis of these, saving heaps of time. In embracing a healthy data culture, sharing of information will become the new norm and inclusivity will naturally follow.
Leaders need to recognize that employees do need to be equipped with the skills and confidence to work with data though. When people are given the opportunity to interact with and understand data, they can increasingly build the confidence to speak up and have their voices heard, regardless of what level they’re at. This opens up the decision-making process to more people, who can then accurately reflect the diversity of society.
ASW is an example of an organization that has successfully used its strong data culture and inclusivity to make complex decisions in a timely manner.
With the help of Tableau, ASW was able to strengthen collaboration between departments through sharing data. Data is made more accessible to employees as insights are clearly visualised. Within a year, hundreds of employees have become active users of data analytics.
With effective and collaborative use of data, ASW is now able to quickly highlight areas that require immediate focus, so that the organization collectively can react more responsively to market situations and competitors’ actions.
The cultural shift begins at the top
The case for empowering employees to be more involved in the decision-making process could not be stronger than today. People, together with their creativity and curiosity, can contribute to decision-making with data as the common language. The cultural shift needs to start from the top and leaders of today need to kickstart the data culture movement. When all is said and done, it’s about delivering what customers want and embracing a data culture will take any organization on that path to success.