Four Steps to Align Data With Your Mission and Goals

Arocho-Four Steps to Align Data March 16, 2021 By: Emilio Arocho

Data can provide actionable insights for organizations and give them a navigable path to make better informed business decisions. Here are four steps to help reach your goals.

“Business Intelligence” can be a vague and intimidating term depending on your interpretation. And yet, the ability to use data to serve your association’s mission has never been more important and timely.

In today’s world, organizations simply cannot afford to invest their time and limited resources in initiatives that do not demonstrably deliver outcomes that support their goals. Following these four steps, any association can engage in the thoughtful application of business intelligence to ensure their programs, initiatives, and resources are aligned with their mission.  

Formulate SMART Goals

SMART is an acronym people use to remember the five aspects of a well-articulated goal: SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound.

For example, your organization may have a 2021 goal of “increasing membership.” Although this goal makes sense, it does not meet all the qualifications of a SMART goal. Here is a membership goal that does:

We aim to advance our mission of serving the professional community by increasing our total amount of paid memberships to 10,000 by the end of the year, a 7 percent increase over last year.

Developing a SMART goal is seldom complex from a data standpoint. And yet SMART goals are so crucial in data analysis because they provide direction needed for inquiry. For example, knowing that you want to increase a specific type of membership can make all the difference in measurement, analysis, and strategy.

Organizations simply cannot afford to invest their time and limited resources in initiatives that do not demonstrably deliver outcomes that support their goals.

Develop KPIs for Your Goals

How will you know whether you have achieved a goal? Most often, you’ll use at least one measurement. The metrics you use to measure your progress toward a business objective are key performance indicators  (KPIs).

Building on the membership example, you may use KPIs like the total number of current memberships, the number of new members, and the number of lapsed members.

In most cases, devising KPIs is not difficult. And having the right combination of technology and human resources ensures you can get dependable reporting in this area.

Brainstorm Leading Indicators

What metrics could you use to predict whether you will achieve your goals? These metrics are called leading indicators. They are the secret sauce that help you understand likely outcomes before they happen and empower you to influence those outcomes in real time. Leading indicators allow you to measure how well your strategies are working to influence a goal.

Going back to the membership example, perhaps one of your strategies is to implement a win-back campaign for lapsed members. In this case, the number of conversions and the total number of active participants in the campaign can be leading indicators for your goal of increasing membership. Measured regularly, and in conjunction with your goal’s KPIs, these leading indicators can help you understand the impact of your campaign. Based on how the leading indicators change over the year, you can make crucial campaign adjustments to increase the likelihood that you will achieve your goal.

Leading indicators are enormously empowering because they prevent you from falling into a trap of using data to simply understand what has already happened.

However, articulating the best leading indicators for a goal is not as easy as articulating KPIs. It may feel like a bit of guesswork at first. It is OK to make guesses because they can be vetted with further analysis and data. It is also OK to brainstorm leading indicators that may be difficult to measure because of poor software integrations, the manual labor involved, or data siloes. This may indicate the need for analytical solutions or resources to empower your organization to effectively measure its most critical work.

Engage in Analysis

By this point, you have articulated goals that reflect your mission, determined how to measure them, and identified leading indicators to monitor your progress. You now have a picture of exactly what areas of focus are most useful from a business intelligence perspective:

  • Which KPIs need to be evaluated for their accuracy?
  • Which strategies are difficult or impossible to measure, and how might you begin the process of changing things so they can be measured?
  • What member demographics or behavior patterns would be insightful in honing your leading indicators?
  • Are there any strategies you would like to validate through data analysis because of unclear impact on KPIs?

Executive partnership from the top of the organization and strong cross-functional efforts lead to the greatest success in the analysis step.

If you start with SMART goals and build a path to action from KPIs and leading indicators, alignment of business intelligence and mission will not be something executive leaders will have to strive for. It will be an inevitable outcome.

Emilio Arocho

Emilio Arocho is senior director of managed services at Association Analytics.