Diary of a Business Woman

Statistics: Help or Hindrance?

by Joanne Leitschuh

My vision was getting blurred as I paged through 30 pages of numbers. Product codes, account balances, stock quantities, prices and percentages all contributed to a whirl of figures. Am I really getting the information I need from all of this? I've heard that the human mind likes to assimilate information in packets. For me, statistics can grow into such a large bundle that I don't even want to open it! Thanks to our computer, unlimited information is always available. That's the problem! What information helps our business and what information just looks nice on paper? Through the years, I have been trying to focus on the areas that need attention. I put aside the facts that seem interesting but don't really lead me to make changes in our jewellery business.

The world of statistics was baffling at first. I would spend hours trying to create a report that would gather information accurately, only to find that I left out a little computer command that was crucial for calculating the correct numbers.

I remember the first time I presented my statistics at a meeting. Everyone struggled to decipher the information. I quickly learned that my objective was to gather the information and to present it in a "I SEE!" format. Numbers in rows and columns on a piece of paper can be intimidating. My attention span is like most peoples' these days -short! I need to see the figures and interpret them without a lot of unanswered questions: were sales unusually high this month by a special order; or were sales low for this item because we didn't have it in stock for two months?

It seemed like the best way for me to learn to cope with endless numbers was to break them down into "digestible" parts. Often, when our sales team gets together, it's hard for us to see the big trend when we get mesmerized by the minute details.

For example, when we review sales for a whole year, we want to know at a glance which collections were winners, which need a bit of refreshing and which collections were absolute disasters!

My part in presenting statistics to my colleagues is that the important parts are highlighted. (I believe in the BIG and BOLD functions on the computer!) The message, "wake up - act now!" should be evident. The biggest benefit of statistics is that they can direct our company's future. Where should the design team put their time and energies? What IS working for our company? What is NOT?

Even though useful statistics can take time and fore-thought, the information they provide has been vital to our business. So whether it's determining which products are in the TOP 10 or which 10 overdue accounts owe the most money, proper statistics can lead to action - not bewilderment!

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