Lighten up

Feb. 5, 2010
Tom Moriarty, P.E., CMRP, contributing editor, pens a note to senior managers on data drag and its effects on your staff.

If you’re a senior manager, director, executive, or the like, there’s something that I’d like to discuss with you. Your middle managers and line supervisors are spending way too much time on data gathering and reporting, and far too little time fulfilling the other elements of their job description. This presents two problems:

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  • Middle manager and line supervisor time allocations aren’t accurately reflected in their job task descriptions. This might have an effect on morale, hiring or termination proceedings.
  • Middle managers and line supervisors’ disproportionate time allocations result in neglecting or underperforming other important functions. This has an effect on quality of supervision and supervisory performance within your organization.

If you talk with middle managers and line supervisors, you’ll hear that these folks spend a disproportionate amount of time gathering data, entering data into computers and word-smithing reports you demand. They spend their time entering data, often because those who work for them are reluctant or lack training (I’ll discuss this problem in a future article). They also spend time gathering data, formatting reports and disseminating information because senior managers and executives require the information. I refer to this as “data drag.”

I’m not suggesting that all data management and report generation is bad. I’m simply saying there needs to be balance between the allocation of time spent on data gathering (including formatting, disseminating, etc.) and the value of the information obtained.


Too often, senior managers project their own skills in time management and data acquisition onto their direct reports or others. They believe that others have the same time management skills, analytical capability and ability to automate data collection activities. And, they often underestimate other demands on people’s time. Middle managers and line supervisors frequently don’t have the authority to direct and institute data collection and report generation automation, yet the demands are in place with an expectation that compliance will occur.

So what can a senior manager or executive do to reduce data drag, and to get managers and supervisors focusing on balancing their tasks and time allocations? The first step is to evaluate what information you’re asking for, how often you ask for it, and what you do with it after you get it.

Just being obtainable doesn’t mean that information has sufficient value to justify the effort in obtaining it. Questions to ask about information value include:

  • Is the information relevant in making decisions about availability, efficiency or quality?
  • Does the information address an issue that can have a significant effect on availability, efficiency or quality?

If your contemplation of these two questions suggests that the data or information isn’t of high value, consider discontinuing the requirement for your staff to report this information.

Questions to ask about the level of effort for gathering the information include:

  • How much staff time is being spent obtaining the data, putting it into an acceptable format and getting it through to the users of the data?
  • What activities are my staff managers and supervisors not doing because they must spend time on data gathering tasks? Which is the better use of time?
  • Is the frequency of data gathering and reporting appropriate for the use of the information?

If the level of effort is too high compared to the value of the information, determine if there are ways to reduce the effort required to gather, format and disseminate it. If the information value is low, and the level of effort is high, stop asking for the information. Can the process be automated or otherwise improved to reduce effort? Can people who need the information be given access to find it themselves?

As a senior manager or executive, you should be concerned with the efficiency of internal operations. Eliminate low-value, high-effort activities. Scrutinize value and effort to ensure your staff is allocating their time to best organizational advantage.

Tom Moriarty, P.E., CMRP, is president of Alidade MER Inc. Contact him at [email protected] and (321) 773-3356.