Distilling the Need to Know From the Nice to Know

What we don’t need is more information. What we do need is a way to plow through all the information and pull out what we can use on a daily basis to improve operational efficiency and drive profitability.

There’s an enormous frustration with the unexpected costs of knowing too much; of being inundated with information. We have come to confuse information with understanding. The U.S military had too much information (forest for the trees affect) on Japan to see the attack on Pearl Harbor coming. The key to good decision-making is not knowledge, it’s understanding. We’re swimming in the former and desperately lacking in the latter.

Like so many other things in life, the 80/20 rule can be applied to data as well: 80 percent falling into the “nice to know” category and 20 percent “need to know.”

Data Decisions

Much of the hype around big data focuses on getting more information and more people to analyze it, but the opportunity is best tapped by getting everyone to use the data more effectively. Zero in on what matters (i.e. profit drivers) and prune away the rest.

Establish a context for what the data means and do it in a way that shows why it is vital. Don’t just put the data in a meaningful context; know what questions to ask: Are we defining the right problems and opportunities? Do we have the right data? What are our assumptions behind the data? Are our assumptions on the data flawed?

Organizational attention-deficit disorder includes making flawed decisions because of missing data, not enough time for reflection, strategic disconnect, and inability to focus when and where it matters. Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do. But you need good, clean, meaningful data to make those decisions.

Frontline Scorecard

Store employees, both sales clerks and store managers, drive profitability. Therefore, providing them with sales- and profit-driven data that they have influence and control over is important since it guides and influences their behaviors. It allows your employees to make better operating decisions on a daily basis. For example, Seven-Eleven Japan field counselors visit each of the company’s 16,000 stores twice a week, helping sales clerks to learn and use data effectively.

All store personnel should receive daily feedback on their performance. A great way of doing this is through a scorecard. A scorecard serves as a great coaching tool because it clarifies individual accountability and provides consistent feedback so individuals know how they’re doing and are able to identify areas for improvement.

It’s important for a scorecard to be based on the right metrics. The most important characteristic is that it focuses on results individuals can control; not summaries of the company’s financial performance or stock price. A targeted scorecard allows work groups (i.e. sales clerks, store managers, drivers, supervisors, etc.) to identify problems before they show up on the bottom line, and it helps individuals understand how their activities, behaviors and decisions contribute to the success of the business.


Most organizations don’t do a good job with the information they already have. They don’t know how to manage it, analyze it in ways that enhance their understanding, and then make changes in response to new insights. Until an organization learns how to use data and analysis to support its operating decisions, it will not be in a position to truly benefit from the data.

One final note on data analysis: When making major decisions, gut feelings are data, too!

Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News for the Single Store Owner.