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Data-Informed Decision Making

This is an excerpt from Contemporary Leadership in Sport Organizations 2nd Edition With HKPropel Access by David Scott.

The complexity of current times and the challenges and issues previously discussed in the chapter lead to the importance of this final section on data-informed decision making as part of leadership in modern organizations. It is worth noting up front that the terms data-based decision making and data-driven decision making are also commonly used when referring to the collection and analysis of various forms of data to help guide organizational leaders in problem solving. However, some argue that these terms imply that data, in and of itself, should be the basis for all decisions and actions in an organization. In most cases, numerous factors beyond just quantitative or qualitative data influence decision making; thus, the term data-informed has become more commonly used to suggest how data becomes one part of a larger set of factors that inform possible actions and future considerations for change.

The collection and recording of game statistics have long been a part of the sport industry. The professional field of sport analytics provides competitive sport teams with ways to improve player and team performance as well as maximize profits from strategic marketing and promotions. Fried and Mumcu (2017), in their textbook, Sport Analytics: A Data-Driven Approach to Sport Business and Management, pointed out that using data to make sport decisions over the years has included such examples as gamblers trying to improve odds of winning, coaches evaluating player talent and potential, and sport executives tracking attendance and broadcast revenue to determine success. As a key point in the introduction to their book, Fried and Mumcu shared that data literacy (generally the ability to sort through vast amounts of data in many formats) has become very important. Additionally, the authors pointed out that the sport industry “needs to develop a correlation between the questions asked (framing), the data collected, the data analyzed, the answers obtained, and decisions made in response to the data” (p. 2). For specific aspects of data analytics in sport as a field of study and profession, readers are encouraged to read this informative book.

From a sport organization leadership perspective, the purpose is to stress the importance of building a data-informed culture as part of effective leadership responsibility. Using the term data-driven, Milne (2019) stated, “A data-driven culture is where transparency and accountability are nurtured around data, and team members are driven by decisions through hypothesis testing where the data results ultimately drive the decisions” (para. 4). Milne also noted that “having lots of operational data is a great start, but to be a truly data-driven organization requires the ability to develop strategic insights into what is influencing your key performance indicators (KPIs)” (para. 5).

While not specific to sport organizations, Milne proposed six key things that should be done to establish data-driven teams (or data-informed decision-making teams):

  1. Start from the top with data-driven leadership. In other words, leaders must lead by example and foster an environment for both hypothesis making and testing.
  2. Hire data-driven team members. While having a full data analytic team may not be possible, begin hiring individuals who have knowledge, experiences, and potential to help reinforce the desired data-informed culture.
  3. Look within your existing ranks. Find people within the organization who have interests or have demonstrated skills associated with using data for informed decision making.
  4. Use data everywhere and embed it into your culture. Encourage team members to ask questions, challenge thinking based on data, and look for what attributions and correlations can be drawn from the data.
  5. Create your own data dictionary and tools strategy. Make data available to people across the entire organization. Have central places to share data and insights, including such things as a data dictionary that defines key metrics and inventories of the tools available.
  6. Remember that data is not everything. It is important not to get so deeply engaged in reporting, analysis, and testing that the organization becomes paralyzed or is focusing on the wrong thing.

Leaders across all types and levels of sport organizations must recognize the importance of embracing a more intentional data-informed culture. Leaders can use data to assist with such things as informing daily practice, diagnosing organizational problems, justifying decisions or courses of action, and examining new methods and approaches. It has now become an essential component of effective sport leadership in today’s complex times.

More Excerpts From Contemporary Leadership in Sport Organizations 2nd Edition With HKPropel Access