The universal analytics question. Are you answering it?


All analytics boil down to one universal question, “Where should we focus our attention”?

Of course, that question plays out in different ways.  

On the positive side, it might sound like, “Who is ready to be promoted?”, “Where do we have new market opportunities?”, etc.

On the negative side, it might sound like, “Where are we having quality issues?”, “Who is underperforming?”, “What areas of our business are underperforming?”, “What do we need to fix”?, etc.

People don’t look at data because they are curious or browsing.  They look at data because they want to know what to do.

The value of data and analytics is their resulting decisions and actions.  If organizations aren’t taking action based on data, they get the same result as if they had no data in the first place.

Despite this, I find that too often the conversation is not focused on the action.  It’s focused on information and analysis.  That’s where we get in trouble.

How easy do you make it for people to understand where they need to focus their actions?

Here’s a hint.  If your slides a full of charts, tables, graphs, or machine learning and analytical models, you are making it harder than it should be.

For example, I once was listening to a presentation about employee engagement.  

One slide had a bar graph showing the positive and negative impact of 15 key areas on employee engagement.  I asked the presenter what we were supposed to take away from that slide.

The presenter said that our company needed to focus more on employee recognition.

I asked why. The presenter said, “Look at the two bars all the way at the bottom of the chart” (the recognition data).

“Compared to any other factor, recognition has the greatest negative impact on engagement when done poorly.  However, when done right,  it has the greatest positive impact.”

That was a great insight.  However, the presenter made us work too hard for it.

My guess is that if I didn’t ask the question, most people wouldn’t have made it “all the way down” to the bottom of the chart.  There’s a good chance that they got stuck higher up.  For example, consider a person who had an employee complaining about their salary two days earlier.  That person probably stopped on the compensation line of the graph.  As it turns out, compensation can also play a negative role in people’s engagement.

Too often, our conversations and slides focus on information rather than action.  We show results, models, our processes, the tools we used and the analyses that we conducted.

We don’t tell the story about what needs to be done. We tell the story of how we came up with the story.

That slows down decision making.  The processes, analysis, charts, tables, and graphs are all important.  But they are background.  Put them in the appendix.

Focus your conversation on answering the universal question, “Where should I focus my attention?”  That’s what people want to know.  That’s what people need to know.  Everything else is just there to support your recommendation.

Look at your slides or messages.  If it takes your audience more than about five seconds to figure out what they should be focusing their attention on (in their business), you are communicating the wrong thing.

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Brad Kolar is an Executive Consultant, Speaker, and Coach with Avail Advisors.  Avail helps leaders simplify their problems, decisions, data, and communication.  Contact Brad at brad.kola@availadvisors.com.

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