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“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.”
— Max De Pree
There’s no shortage of advice for employees moving into a management role in a new department, suggestions like “be accessible,” “communicate often,” or “lead by example.” It’s good advice, but not particularly actionable.
For example, this otherwise very informative Harvard Business Review blog post suggests “One of your most important tasks as a team leader is to set ambitious but achievable goals with your team’s input.” But how can you set goals if you don’t have a handle on the metrics? A more useful piece of advice for a new manager is to pursue data leadership. That is, dedicate the first few months of your new job to learning about your operational data.
No matter whether you’re in finance, HR or any other area, understanding the operational reporting and data of your department positions you for leadership success. When you are conducting those initial one on one’s with your new team, here are some questions to ask:
What daily reports do I need to see?
There will be a core set of reports that you look at every day or every week – what are they? What metrics on them are the most meaningful? Are these KPIs tracked on a dashboard that everyone on your team has access to?
Is reporting in real time?
If not, what is the time lag between reports and reality? If reports are run against an analytics data warehouse, what is the timeframe for ETL to the data warehouse? On a related note, are there reports that take a long time to run? When are they scheduled to run? Do long-running reports timeout, and if so, how will you know?
How do we create or change reports?
Who is responsible for generating and updating reports – is it someone on your team, or do you need to loop in IT to help? It’s also worth asking who actually receives these reports – do they go to upper management? Is anyone actually looking at them? This is an opportunity to make sure these reports are actually being sent to you.
If you use an ad hoc reporting tool, it may be simple to change or create a report. However, if you rely on IT to do this, it indicates a likely bottleneck for your team. How long does it take for a report change request to be addressed on average? Is there a way to fast-track changes?
Do any reports require manual processes to create?
Again this could indicate a bottleneck in your reporting, and even worse, the likelihood of errors on spreadsheets and reports. Don’t expect to be able to automate manual report creation during your first few months on the job. However, it is important that you know (and have documented) any manual processes that exist.
Are we following data privacy best practices?
In what ways is your team responsible for data privacy, and are they in compliance? For example, are reports still being forwarded to employees, like your predecessor, who are no longer in your department?
What other data do we have access to?
Besides your ERP, there could be dozens of other data sources to report against. What other relevant data sources do you need to know about? Is your ERP integrated with them, or does access require manual processes like downloading spreadsheets?
Data Leadership Starts With Reporting
When you start managing a new team, you have a small window of opportunity to get a fresh look at the operational data. Asking a few simple questions about your operational reporting can help you identify gaps that your team, caught up in the activity of daily operations, probably can’t see. When you lead by looking at the data, you can set realistic and attainable goals for the year ahead.