BE IN THE KNOW BLOG
Are you telling a story with data?
February 27, 2012
By Jamie Barrette
Yesterday, a client (let’s call her “Sally”) shared with me that one of her biggest challenges is getting the attention of her manager, the VP of HR. Sally runs the workforce planning group in a large manufacturing type company. Her main focus is aligning the size of the workforce with current and future business objectives. Not an easy task when production volume is dependent on many hard to predict variables.
While digging into the issue, one of the things that immediately caught my attention was the response she told me she received when she emailed the latest manpower demand forecast to her manager: a simple "Cool, thanks". I took a look at the report that was sent. There were several data points on it that should have provoked questions and requests for explanations, at a minimum.
Was there something wrong with the report? Not technically.
The problem was that Sally handed the Vice President a multi-page report consisting of tables of numbers, when what was really needed was an analysis that presented the facts using a compelling visual format to tell a story. The key is to deliver the right information to the right people: a higher level executive will not take the time to sift though a report to pull out the important pieces. Additionally, weaving a narrative into the analysis makes it both easier for the recipient to understand both your message and the call to action the data may require.
We spent some time deconstructing the report, pulling out the relevant pieces and brainstorming how to put it together into a format that would garner the appropriate level of attention. The end result was a one pager, broken down into quadrants. Each quadrant focused on one key component or theme of the story my client was trying to convey; we populated the quadrants with metrics and analytics that clearly communicated the message of the data points.
If you aren't getting the response you think your information artifacts merit, or not getting any response at all, you might try choosing one particular element – one key piece of data – and tell a story with it using a visual. Then see if the response you get back is more than a "cool, thanks."
Also taking a look at how the message is being delivered might be worthwhile. Incorporating interesting and relevant metrics and analytics with a compelling narrative might be the key to capturing the attention of your audience and encouraging the action your data points prescribe.