Automation has already taken over most aspects of our lives, and its reach expands every day. Even so, a place remains for people in the process. Data might represent the key tool for good decision-making. But people still need to make the individual decisions. It’s important to know how to incorporate the human element into your data-leveraging operations.

Pay attention to the mainstream business media and you’ll hear a specific narrative again and again: big data will run world. Machines can already beat people at chess and at Jeopardy!…it’s only a matter of time before they make every decision for us.

How to Use People to Unlock the Power of Your Data

In the Terminator series, robots have completely taken over. Humans and machines are at war. It may feel like the same thing is happening in real life when your phone drops an important call, or your pet-food subscription service malfunctions and sends you 200 pounds of kibble.

But, in reality, people and machines have to work together to get results. Data is only as works as a decision-making tool if people shape how it is collected and interpret the information correctly.

Here are some of the ways you can benefit by including a human touch in your data-processing operation:

Knowing Where to Look

To get a useful answer, you have to ask the right question. Along the same lines, to get useful data, you need to know where to find actionable statistics. People become key to targeting your data-collection efforts. Finding the right numbers to steer your decision-making requires expert input.

After all, your company has a broad area of interest. Even if your operation is relatively small, your interests will span the entire market.

Too much data becomes unusable – it’s too much information to process. Instead, you need narrow the field of interest. You and your team have to choose promising areas of inquiry, targeting the problems that require further data collection and analysis.

Data Gathering

Machines are very good at gathering and manipulating numbers. But they don’t make judgments. For that, you need some guidance from individuals.

Once you plot out the kind of numbers you want to collect, you need to set up structures to gather that data. Again, expert human input is necessary to optimize this process. You need to create a system for getting usable information.

Think about political polling. Ask questions in a slightly different way, or skew the way samples are used, and you can end up with widely divergent answers to the same basic queries.

In other words, the little things matter. The way you set up the collection procedures can influence the results you get. Careful data gathering, with expert human oversight, ensures that you can trust the decisions you make based on the numbers you receive.

Crunching the Numbers 

Now, you have a loaded spreadsheet, column after column of numbers. But you still don’t have enough information to make a decision. Those figures have to get shaped into a usable data set.

Building the bridge from raw numbers to actual strategic decisions requires a human touch. Once again, an expert opinion can ensure that your analysis leads to correct, actionable decisions to move your business forward.

Strategic planning facilitation can help you achieve this goal. With the right direction, you can take the basic information that you’ve gathered and use it to steer your operations in the right direction.

Combining Data-Driven Insights with Corporate Reality

Data may represent the most important tool for business planning. However, we still live in a world of people. Not all data driven conclusions are practical in a world still populated with living, feeling humans.

Before pulling the trigger on a new strategic direction, you have to take the softer aspects into account. You have to consider things like brand, corporate culture, and the PR implications.

Only people can provide this input. Share your data-infused insights with the appropriate staff to figure out whether the new initiatives are possible. Meanwhile, get further direction on how best to implement the programs.

Communicating with Your Team

You’ve compiled your data and used the figures to outline your new strategic plan. However, you can’t count on an army of robots to enact the program (at least, not yet). For now, you’ll need your human employees to take your data-informed decisions and turn them into a reality.

To get this done, you’ll need to disseminate the ideas among your staff. This isn’t always easy. Data-infused communications can be obtuse and dull. Some front-line employees might not be able to understand the raw documentation. They might need a little translation.

For this, you’ll require some human help. You’ll need employees skilled in the art of communication, who can turn the insights gained from data into an action plan that your other team members can follow.

Selling Stakeholders 

You don’t just have to sell your vision to your employees. They represent just one of the groups of stakeholders with an interest in your decision-making.

In addition, you need to convince investors, and even customers. You’ll need to get everyone on board with the data-based decisions you’ve made. This requires another level of communication. You’ll need strong marketing and PR employees to build consensus with your other interested parties.

Creating Algorithms

In the fast-paced modern corporate world, there isn’t always time for human intervention. Some decisions get made automatically, based on changing situations. Pricing policies, inventory decisions, and even some logistics operations change automatically based on incoming data.

These situations rely on algorithms to operate properly. Statistical information comes in (about, say, supply and demand for a certain product), and the algorithm executes the process automatically (changing prices to fit the market).

However, even this culmination of the mythical machine takeover has a human element. Someone has to craft that algorithm.

An automated process with a faulty algo basis will quickly become a disaster, if that flawed process is allowed to make real-time decisions. You need innovative, intelligent people in charge of the system, along with a robust oversight regime.

Surviving in the modern corporate landscape requires an engagement with big data. However, this process only leads to meaningful results when shaped by human intervention. By integrating numbers with your talented staff members, you can optimizing your decision-making procedures and find the buried insights you need to beat the competition.


Sylvia Peters is a Collaborator for Find A Facilitator and a mother of two.

She’s also an expert to bringing the most credible, experienced and personable facilitation to every meeting she attended. In her free time you will find her meditating and making her favorite salad.