Ask Dr. Paola: What Are the Key Factors to Successfully Using Data to Make Better Decisions and Improve Real-World Outcomes?

Topics: Ask Dr. Paola, Business Development & Marketing Blog Posts, Client Relations, Data Analytics, Law Firm Profitability, Law Firms, Legal Innovation, Talent Development

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The Legal Executive Institute blog is honored to be working with Dr. Paola Cecchi-Dimeglio, a behavioral scientist and senior research fellow for Harvard Law School’s Center on the Legal Profession and the Harvard Kennedy School, on a monthly column.

Each month, Dr. Cecchi-Dimeglio will be answering questions about how law firms and legal service firms can navigate a dramatically changing legal environment by using data analytics and behavioral science to create incentives for their lawyers and others to change their behavior. (You can follow Paola on Twitter at @HLSPaola.)

On to this month’s question…

Ask Dr. Paola: My firm understands the value of the data we have, but are less sure about how to find the best way to convert the potential within this data into real business outcomes and better decision-making that will ultimately allow us to serve our clients better. Are their definite objectives we need to keep in mind as we go about this process? 

Dr. Cecchi-Dimeglio: Good question. And I am glad to see you’re already looking at the value in cultivating your data to help you serve your clients better. Because when we look at data science we can see that we have tremendous opportunity to improve decision-making — from machine learning, to back-end recognition and any predictive analysis that we can have — with the goal of ultimately creating a source of competitive advantage.

Still, organization leaders must be aware that there is an enormous gulf between awareness, intent and early engagement, and ultimately achieving significant business impact. That’s why it is so important to look at how law firms can better manage the process of using data science to obtain real business goals — and fortunately, there are several factors that contribute greatly to success in this area.

For example, the creation of a knowledge team with some members recruited from the outside who can combine data science and behavioral sciences can move a firm along this road. I worked with a leading professional services firm whose CEO in 2013 realized the firm needed to pair data science and behavioral science to improve performance within the company and for the clients that the firm was serving.

Dr. Paola Cecchi-Dimeglio

To meet this goal, the firm created a special team and brought few people in — all of them with specific experience and expertise from outside the sector in which the professional service operated. So, there were people like myself, but also mathematicians, statisticians, psychologists, sociologists, other economists and even a lawyer was hired initially, too. From the outset, the team was very small, but now, four years later, it has grown to more than 150 people.

Overall, the goal of the team when it was created was to be a catalyst for evidence-based decision-making across the organization. The team has now evolved to a group and is working head-to-head with all partners, employees and firm leaders. And what is important about that group is the militant disciplinary approach that they are taking in order to generate new insight from the data.

And how are they doing that — or, more precisely, what are the main factors that will influence success in this endeavor? There are several, for example:

  1.      Focus on questions and problems that matter — Don’t get bogged down in using the data to examine the small, less crucial questions, even if at times those seem pressing. Identify the problems and questions that are most important to the future success of your organization, using the data and behavioral science to best recommend solutions to those matters.
  2.      Follow the mandate of the data even when it stretches beyond producing insights — You want this initiative to support making positive changes within the organization, but it’s also important to understand that this endeavor is a learning process. The journey may take you to places you didn’t first envision and teach you things about your organization that you didn’t know. It’s vital that you keep yourself open to what the data ultimately is saying.
  3.      Demonstrate significant wins and make it visible to the firm and partners — Even small, quick wins can go a long way to convince the initial doubters that this was the right path to be on. Visible wins can also illustrate to partners that their faith in this project was well-founded.
  4.      Adopt a portfolio approach, not only one or two initiatives — Don’t be cowed into starting too small on this data-driven initiative. Just as data can be gathered from all parts of the organization, so too should its touch have a long reach. This should be an enterprise-wide approach, hitting on many facets of the business.
  5.      Plan for an adaptive approach and not a single change — The results too, shouldn’t be limited. After all, you didn’t do all this data-gathering, number crunching and behavioral study to change a single, isolated behavior. The results, strategies and initiatives of this program should be adapted throughout the organization, so the benefits can be similarly spread around.
  6.      Combine different goals and time horizons — As with any fully-encompassing approach, you want to construct a timeline for success that will produce more immediate results, which could be focused on value; some big wins in the medium-term; and some real transformational change in the longer term.

These factors, taken together, can strongly influence the success or failure of any data-centric, decision-making endeavor, and should be part of a team-driven, comprehensive strategy to address behavioral changes within an organization.