Rather than bury yourself in numbers, treat information selectively. Apply rigorous analysis to confirm the accuracy of what you hear and read before you draw conclusions.
Here are four steps to turn information into intelligence:
See for yourself. Seek independent verification of your information. Confirm its validity by going to the primary source. For example, to gauge the extent of an inventory shortage, visit the warehouse and conduct your own count. Don’t rely on computer printouts. The more filters that exist between you and the information, the higher the odds of inaccuracies.
Fight the fact-opinion blur. When you ask your staff to gather information for you, listen carefully to how they report their findings. Ask yourself, “Can what they’re saying be proved, or are they fudging the facts?”
Some people express their opinions as facts by asserting themselves in seemingly precise or confident tones. Their dogmatic remarks (“All indications are these numbers are clearly on target.”) might lull lazy listeners into thinking that they’re hearing some self-evident truth. Never accept someone’s opinion as fact, even if it’s delivered with absolute self-assurance.
Isolate key ratios. Prioritize your information. Know what numbers matter the most in your business.
“There are critical numbers in every company,” says Danny Warshay, a Rhode Island-based entrepreneur and business adviser. “At Marriott, it’s occupancy rate. When I published a magazine, it was the percentage of 12-month advertising contracts. Focus on the key drivers or key levers and rally employees around them.”
Connect the dots. When someone discusses raw data with you, get in the habit of asking, “What do you conclude from that?” This way, you encourage others to analyze the significance of the information and consider how to make the most of it.