This article was updated on July 10, 2018.
When it comes to winning the support of fellow executives, modern HR leaders are increasingly called upon for presenting analyzed data. Data-driven decision-making is not just a fleeting buzzword. It's become a powerful way for the C-suite to make informed and strategic choices. As Harvard Business Review highlights, "data and algorithms have a tendency to outperform human intuition in a wide variety of circumstances."
Becoming a Data Storyteller Is No Longer Optional
While today's CHROs and HR leaders are unlikely to assume an entirely quantitative role, they must learn how to work closely with technologies and experts to produce the right kinds of analysis. But it's important to first understand the distinction between data analysis and data storytelling. According to Deloitte, most members of executive teams may not understand the minutiae of analytics, but they're likely to be compelled by "stories ... that combine data and analytics" with context about people and organizations.
In many cases, dedicated data scientists and analysts lack the organizational context to tell the right stories. Effective presentations of analyzed data require a combination of technical and organizational knowledge. It's more than visual presentation of information. You must learn how to collaborate with analysts to offer compelling knowledge.
To achieve that goal, HR leaders must develop some basic competencies in the art of data storytelling.
1. Create a Mission Statement
A mission statement can be the guiding factor for translating analysis into a story. As TWDI, a business and technology education firm, notes, HR leaders must work to "organize facts into a narrative, and include a protagonist if you have one." Defining some key aspects of your analysis prior to organizing your presentation can yield a more cohesive result.
Your mission statement should include the following:
- A hero, or affected members of your organization
- The conflict, or reason for your proposed change
- Support, or data-driven evidence that makes a case for the change
- An epilogue, or proposed result and data-driven evidence for your proposal
2. Know Your Audience
A presentation for your organization's information and security leadership may need to be framed much differently than a proposal for your CEO and marketing executives. By understanding your audiences' relationship with analytics, you can choose to exclude or reveal the nitty-gritty details of your analysis. Non-technical leaderships' eyes may glaze over if you opt to present a slide filled with research methods, but for other audiences, technical process details could be necessary for credibility.
3. Don't Hide From the Numbers
Objectivity and transparency are critical factors in winning the support of any data-driven audience. Gravitate recommends that you "base [your story] on what the data actually says, not what you want it to say." Avoid excluding outliers or analyses results that simply don't make sense. In some cases, your proposal may evolve and improve based on the results of your analytics. Comprehensive, objective analysis is critical to credibility.
4. Embrace Context
Most of us have encountered poorly executed data storytelling. Those instances often consist of a long, boring series of charts and graphs that don't seem to have much of a point. Context is pivotal, and it can be the factor that translates dull analytics into a compelling story. Deloitte writes that successful analysts "spend about half their time thinking about how best to communicate their analytical results." In data storytelling, context can take a variety of forms.
Examples of useful data context could include
- Change over time (temporal change)
- Industry or regional benchmarking
- Existing metrics or KPIs
- Externally produced research or data intelligence
5. Explain Why It Matters
Perhaps the most crucial aspect of data storytelling is a clear explanation of why the information matters to your audience. How does your analysis affect your organization, and why should your executive team care? What are the potential quantitative impacts of action or non-action? Data has the power to remove ambiguity from the decision-making process. By ensuring that your presentation carries a clear "point," you can increase your chances of winning support.
As organizations continue to adopt data-driven decision-making, HR leaders must develop strong relationships with staff analysts for presenting analyzed data. Although it's unlikely that you will need to learn the technical aspects of analytics or data visualization, CHROs must embrace the role of data storytellers to translate numbers into actionable knowledge.